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EU Concerned About Tension Between Sudan, UN Aid Workers


The European Union's Special Representative for Sudan, Pekka Haavisto, says the rising tension between the government of Sudan and the United Nations could hurt humanitarian efforts in the war-torn Darfur region and other parts of the country. Haavisto made his remarks during a visit to Washington.

Haavisto joined officials from the United States and the United Nations in criticizing Sudan for blocking the visit earlier this week of a top aid official who wanted to travel to Darfur and Chad.

The government of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir barred Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, from visiting the war-torn region.

The Associated Press reported from Khartoum Wednesday that Sudan may have reversed itself, quoting a government statement as saying the visit was postponed for 10 days for unspecified "internal reasons."

Haavisto says such actions are creating problems for the U.N.'s extensive humanitarian work in Sudan.

"The U.N. certainly has problems if this kind of trend is raising in Sudan, that U.N. is looked at as an enemy, because a lot of humanitarian work, and particularly a lot of support in the south, is run by the U.N. and U.N. agencies," said Pekka Haavisto. "This is certainly a most unwelcome position for the U.N. to have already a lot of problems on the ground and then have this kind of mobilization of public opinion against the U.N."

Relations between the international body and Sudan have deteriorated since the U.N., the United States and the European Union backed a move for the African Union to handover Darfur peacekeeping duties to the United Nations. The Sudanese government is vehemently opposed to such a move.

An official from the embassy of Sudan in Washington, who identified himself as Salah, says there have recently been anti-U.N. demonstrations around the country.

Salah says bringing in U.N. troops under such circumstances could lead to more violence in Darfur.

"We think that having U.N. troops now in Darfur is going to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution," said Salah. "You have seen here demonstrations in Nyala, which is the capital of Darfur. There are demonstrations in many places in Sudan. So in such a hostile environment is it wise at this time to have U.N. troops in Darfur? If anything happens to these troops isn't it the government of Sudan who is going to be blamed?"

The Darfur conflict began three years ago when rebels rose up against Khartoum, complaining they had been ignored both politically and economically by the government.

Sudan armed Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, to crush the rebellion. An estimated 180,000 people have died and the fighting has displaced two million more.

The EU Special Representative for Sudan, Pekka Haavisto, says some of the government-supported militias are now out of control.

"When you create a monster, then you create a monster and the monster goes its own way and you do not control it anymore," he said. "This is what has happened with part of the Janjaweeds. I think that Khartoum is also quite serious that some of them, these people, are now out of control."

Sudan's government and rebels from Darfur have made little progress in peace talks currently under way in Abuja, Nigeria.

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