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UN Makes Sudan It's Top Refugee Priority - 2004-05-20


The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees has told the Security Council he is making his top priority the estimated one million people fleeing violence in Sudan. The commissioner also pressed the council to plan for peacekeeping operations that could operate across national borders.

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers says 600,000 Sudanese refugees are currently in exile in neighboring countries. Some of these people are fleeing across the border to neighboring Chad, where they continue to be attacked by various militias.

During a briefing with the Security Council Thursday, Mr. Lubbers said more Darfurian refugees should be moved to camps further inside Chad's border to protect them from the militias. "I am sad to report that, in a way, the safest place for Darfurians today is in Chad," he said.

Mr. Lubbers said the situation highlights the need to merge peacekeeping efforts with other U.N. agencies. He said in places like Chad, where militias are crossing national borders to attack refugees, peacekeeping operations should be able to work across borders to protect refugees.

Mr. Lubbers also said U.N. programs have helped hundreds of thousands of refugees return home to Eritrea, Angola, Rwanda and Sierra Leone and despite some persistent conflicts in Africa, he said there is hope for the continent.

"Never before have there been so many opportunities for durable solutions in so many parts of Africa," he added. "There is enormous potential for resolving long-standing conflicts."

Mr. Lubbers appearance before the Security Council follows press reports of sexual harassment complaints filed against him by one of his staff members. He again rejected the allegations on Thursday and said he plans to finish out his term as High Commissioner for Refugees.

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