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Agreement Allows More Aid Workers Access to Darfur

Sudan and the United Nations have signed an agreement to facilitate the travel of humanitarian workers into the war-torn Darfur region. Aid workers had complained they had to undergo lengthy procedures to obtain visas and permits to work in Darfur. Noel King is in Khartoum and has this report for VOA.

Sudan's acting foreign minister Ali Karti and U.N. humanitarian coordinator Manuel Aranda da Silva signed the agreement this week, which promises to "fast track" visa procedures and travel permits for international aid workers.

In the past, foreign aid workers complained that bureaucratic procedures brought aid access to a standstill.

Some aid workers were stranded in the Sudanese capital Khartoum for months before being granted travel permits.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Al-Sadiq told VOA that the agreement was formed with the input of humanitarian workers.

"It has never been the intention of the government to block humanitarian activities. Based on this communiqué, all the concerns of the U.N. agencies and NGOs are going to be addressed," he said. "I do not think we are going to hear so many complaints."

A committee comprised of representatives from Sudan, the United Nations and local and international non-governmental organizations will ensure that the agreement is properly implemented.

A massive humanitarian effort is sustaining four million people in Darfur and eastern Chad.

Around 13,000 humanitarian workers are in the region, where experts estimate 200,000 people have died during the course of the conflict.

Late last year a series of violent attacks on humanitarian residences by unknown assailants caused a large-scale withdrawal of aid workers across the region.

Sudan has come under intense pressure to allow the United Nations to send peacekeepers into Darfur.

At the Arab Summit in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, on Wednesday Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir again said Sudan will only allow the United Nations to provide logistical and financial support to the struggling African Union mission.