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Aid Agency Pulling Out of Darfur

The British aid agency Save the Children says it is pulling out of the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan.

Save the Children United Kingdom Emergencies Director Toby Porter told VOA his agency could no longer jeopardize the lives of its 350 staff members in Darfur.

"We just feel that the incidents we have suffered and the continuing and perhaps even increasing risk to all humanitarian staff operating in Darfur that we simply have been forced to this dreadful decision," he said.

Two staff members traveling in a clearly marked agency vehicle were shot and killed earlier this month. It is believed that Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) rebels were responsible for the killings.

In October, two other staff members were killed when their vehicle drove over a land mine.

Save the Children has been operating health care, nutritional, child protection, and education programs in Darfur for 20 years. The agency reaches 250,000 children and their families.

Mr. Porter says his and other humanitarian staff are used to operating in dangerous and chaotic environments.

"But when warring parties or their representatives start to directly target humanitarian workers, you are dealing with something completely different and insidiously and dreadfully dangerous," he added.

The Sudanese government has maintained that it is keeping law and order in the troubled area.

When asked by VOA why the area is so unsafe, and why the Save the Children staff were attacked, foreign ministry spokesman Mohamed Ahmed Abdel Gaffar said the instability is caused by the rebels taking back territory under the control of the government army.

The rebels could not be reached for comment.

Fighting between government and rebel forces has been escalating in Darfur in recent days. Last Sunday, an African Union helicopter was fired on.

The Darfur conflict, which broke out in early 2003, has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has displaced about 1.5 million more.