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UN Official Welcomes Anticipated Peace Accord in Sudan - 2004-05-19

The United Nation's top refugee official says he welcomes an anticipated peace accord for Sudan -- but notes that bloodshed has yet to be quelled in the region.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, is cautioning against premature jubilation if, as expected, a peace accord is finalized between Sudan's warring factions. Speaking at a Washington news conference, Mr. Lubbers says a separate conflict in the western province of Darfur has yet to be dealt with.

"You read in the papers and you hear from the diplomats about the coming peace in Sudan. And, of course, HCR will applaud the peace, once it is there," he says. "But for me and for the whole world it is unacceptable to celebrate a peace agreement while Darfur continues being bombarded and people are terrorized."

Mr. Lubbers says he discussed his concerns in a meeting with U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The Darfur conflict, which involves two black African rebel groups, Sudanese troops and Arab militias, has killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced nearly a million others. Mr. Lubbers says plans are under way to provide for at least 100,000 of those affected by violence in Darfur -- while, at the same time, facilitating the repatriation of refugees from the broader Sudanese conflict.

"We are preparing, for Sudan, for the repatriation of people. As part of our job, we are opening offices in the south of Sudan. But at this moment, we have to prioritize, [focusing on] the protection and assistance of people in Darfur. And while others are there already, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and others, we will go, too, to do our work," says Mr. Lubbers. "The human misery there makes it needed."

Speaking on other topics, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said tremendous progress has been made in Afghanistan, where he said some three-million people are returning home. He said he hoped for better success in repatriation issues in Iraq after the planned handover of power on June 30.