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UN: Thousands Who Fled Darfur Need Urgent Humanitarian Aid - 2004-06-03

The United Nations is warning that thousands of people in the western Sudanese province of Darfur and refugees from the area who have fled to neighboring Chad will die over the coming weeks and months if they do not receive urgent humanitarian assistance. The United Nations has launched an emergency appeal for $236 million at a major donors conference in Geneva.

The United Nations calls Darfur the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Since war between the Sudanese government and two rebel groups broke out last year, the United Nations estimates more than one million people have become homeless and more than 120,000 have fled to Chad.

U.N. officials say that hundreds of thousands of Sudanese will face death from starvation and disease over the coming weeks and months.

The U.N.'s chief emergency relief official, Jan Egeland, says aid agencies are racing against the clock to get emergency assistance to the victims before the rainy season begins and the roads become impassable. Mr. Egeland added that about half of the one million displaced people are in camps in hard to reach western Darfur. He said this area is particularly insecure because thousands of government-supported Janjaweed militia fighters are operating there.

"In spite of the ceasefire agreement, in spite of progress in political talks led in part by the African Union, the internally displaced report to us that they are seeing more atrocities, more rape, more pillage, more murder," he said. "These are totally defenseless people, women and children for the most part."

The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Andrew Natsios, said that the death and suffering in the camps is widespread. In order to reduce the number of deaths, he said that aid agencies must have unimpeded access to the victims. He added that the Sudanese government finally has eliminated travel permits which aid workers had needed to get into Darfur.

"The problem though is at the same time they were eliminating this restriction on the movement of international organizations and international NGOs [non-governmental organizations], they imposed new restrictions on the number of flights that could be in, the number of planes that could be in, the training of pilots on relief flights and control over vehicles at the port facility that belong to NGOs and international agencies," he said.

A ceasefire in Darfur has not held very well. A monitoring commission from the African Union is expected to arrive in the region in the coming days.