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UN says Outside Pressure Has Opened Way for Western Sudan Aid - 2004-02-16


The United Nations says outside pressure on the warring sides in the conflict in Sudan has opened doors for aid agencies to increase their access to the volatile western Sudan in recent weeks.

The spokesman for the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Ben Parker, said aid workers have been given access to people in Darfur region affected by fighting between rebels, government troops, and Arab militias.

Mr. Parker said the World Food Program has been able to distribute rations to about 100,000 people stranded in a displaced persons' camp called Kutum in northern Darfur.

He said aid workers have had the greatest access to Darfur since peace talks between the rebels and the government broke down in December. "We are actually able to mount some operations that we weren't able to do before. I think UNICEF [the U.N. children's agency] is starting a meningitis vaccination campaign, WFP, as I say, has managed to do a food distribution in Kutum, Save the Children has trucked from the road," he said.

But, he said, aid workers are still cautious. They fear the government might decide to reduce or stop issuing permits for travel to and inside Darfur, as it did several months ago when fighting intensified.

Aid workers have long expressed frustration at the government's reluctance to let them into the area.

The French news agency AFP reported Sunday that Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail reiterated his country's pledge to allow humanitarian aid access into Darfur.

Rebels in Darfur say they are fighting for more political autonomy and a bigger share in the nation's wealth. The conflict, which has been running for more than a year, has claimed more than 3,000 lives. Some 700,000 people fled their homes.

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