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UN Refugee Agency Waiting for OK to Move Freely in Darfur


An official with the United Nations refugee agency says the organization is waiting for the Sudanese government to guarantee its staff freedom of movement in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan before it will return to south Darfur.

The United Nations' refugee agency's director of operations in Sudan, Jean-Marie Fakhouri, Friday said he is eager to send his staff back to south Darfur if they are free to travel in the area.

The day before, the agency transferred three of its workers specializing in protection services to west Darfur from the south. The three had been confined to their offices by local officials.

"My hope is that, very soon, with some pressure the humanitarian coordinator is going to have to put on the government, our people will be able to go back and carry on their work together with the regular team," Mr. Fakhouri explains. "In a time like this, when everybody is needed basically to provide protection, you don't keep a team of experts, however small that team might be, confined to their quarters and not allowed to move."

Mr. Fakhouri said his staff late last month had stumbled on what he called a "forced relocation" of internally displaced people by Sudanese troops, an act violating international regulations. In recent weeks, U.N. agencies and human rights groups have accused Sudanese authorities of forcing displaced people living in camps to relocate to other camps.

He said the staff reported the incident to agency officials. In response, said Mr. Fakhouri, local officials questioned the right of the U.N. agency to complain and subsequently restricted their movement.

A spokesman for the Sudanese foreign ministry told VOA the U.N. refugee agency's situation will be one of many topics to be discussed at an upcoming meeting that will include, among others, U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative for Sudan Jan Pronk.

The 21-month-old conflict in Darfur, which the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, has displaced an estimated one-point-five million people and has killed tens of thousands.