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UN Refugee Agency Expands Operations in Darfur

Staff members of the U.N. refugee agency have resumed their work in the southern part of Sudan's troubled Darfur region, after resolving a dispute with the Sudanese government. The workers left the area earlier this month, complaining that local officials were not allowing them to do their work.

Three staff members of the U.N. refugee agency resumed their work in Nyala, south Darfur. The three specialize in what are called protection services. In Darfur, they are trying to insure that displaced people are not moved against their will and are not forcibly relocated to unsafe villages.

U.N. officials had earlier accused Sudanese troops of forcing displaced people to move to another camp.

The Sudan operations and policy coordinator for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Milton Moreno, says the agency received an indication from the central government that its workers will now be able to function in south Darfur.

"Yesterday, we received a letter saying basically that UNHCR would be welcome to return to south Darfur and more generally to carry out its activities in areas of Darfur," he said.

Mr. Moreno says there had been some misunderstanding about the agency's role in south Darfur.

"There was some confusion I think initially on the part of the authorities as to why UNHCR would be working in south Darfur," said Mr. Moreno. "It took a few days to clarify that, you know, UNHCR being part of this broader U.N. effort in south and north Darfur."

Normally, the agency works with refugees who have crossed international borders in their flight from conflicts or other situations. The U.N. refugee agency does not usually have the mandate to assist internally displaced people, like those in Darfur.

But Mr. Moreno says U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked the agency to provide services and advice for displaced people in Darfur.

The 21-month-old conflict in Darfur, which the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, has displaced an estimated 1.5 million people and has killed tens of thousands.