Sunday, April 01, 2007

U.N. envoy: 'Fragile' balance in Darfur could disintegrate

Source: CNN.

ES SALLAM, Sudan (Reuters) -- The new U.N. humanitarian chief warned Sunday that humanitarian efforts in Darfur could collapse if the situation deteriorates and aid workers are prevented from doing their work.

The warning came on a day of unusually heavy condemnation of the violence in Darfur, with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain proposing a no-fly zone over the region and German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying the suffering of the Sudanese people had become "unbearable."

The U.N. chief, John Holmes, spoke while visiting a refugee camp on the outskirts of the town of El-Fasher in Darfur. He was on his first tour of the troubled region since becoming the international body's top humanitarian official. (Watch a U.S. senator say too little is being done to help the refugees )

Holmes had been barred by Sudanese soldiers from visiting another camp on Saturday, emphasizing, he said, the difficulties faced by aid workers here.

"This humanitarian effort is fragile," Holmes said, speaking from a camp that now houses some 45,000 people who have fled the violence. "If the situation deteriorates, it could collapse."

Holmes, who met with delegates of international aid groups during his two-day visit, said obstruction from Sudan's government and insecurity on the ground have created an environment where "morale is fragile" and could push aid workers to pull out.

"The risk is high," he said. "It is not imminent, but if things deteriorate, people may not want to maintain their efforts."

In need of aid are some 4 million people in Darfur whom the U.N. says have been caught in the midst of fighting between rebels, the government and the pro-government janjaweed.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced in four years of fighting, with janjaweed Arab militias held responsible for widespread atrocities against ethnic African civilians.

The U.N. says the conflict has chased 86,000 people from their homes just this year and blames the vast majority of these new refugees on violence perpetrated by central Sudanese government forces or their allied janjaweed militias.

Former rebels aligned with Minni Minawi, who signed a peace deal with the government last May and has joined forces with Sudan's central government, are increasingly blamed for the recent violence.

Holmes spoke from a camp called Es Sallam, one of three camps near El Fasher that is overspilling with people. Aid workers are currently negotiating space for a fourth camp to meet the incoming flow of refugees.

Holmes said people in the camp were not starving and health conditions seemed decent.

"This shows the enormous humanitarian effort that has been made for three years," he said, referring to the international aid effort in Darfur, which is the largest in the world with more than $1 billion spent and some 14,000 aid workers in the region.

The governor of north Darfur extended apologies to Holmes on Sunday for his being turned away Saturday when he tried to visit another notorious refugee camp.

Holmes said he accepted the apology but would nonetheless raise the issue with Sudanese officials. He said it illustrated the near-constant problems faced by relief workers trying to deliver aid to Darfur's population.

Meanwhile in Berlin on Sunday, German and British leaders at an EU summit called for an increase of sanctions against the Sudanese government.

"The actions of the Sudanese government are completely unacceptable," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. "We need to get a new resolution in the United Nations which extends the sanctions regime ... We need to consider, in my view, a no-fly zone."

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