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Security Problems Hinder Darfur Relief Efforts

The worsening security situation in Sudan’s Darfur region is hindering the work of humanitarian relief agencies, but these problems have not led to the rumored pull-out by the humanitarian agencies, says Dawn Blalock, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Khartoum.

Ms. Blalock said, “The month of September was probably the worst month in terms of the number of direct attacks and we haven’t stopped humanitarian operations but we have had to adjust them. For example, we have deployed extra helicopters so that humanitarian workers aren’t spending time on the roads because the roads are where they’re most vulnerable.”

She said the African Union Mission in Sudan is “doing increased patrols on the roads to help create a safe environment. This is allowing us to continue operating in Darfur. But it’s not a sustainable option. This can’t go on forever.”

The crisis in western Sudan began in early 2003, when rebels representing the non-Arab peoples of the Darfur region took up arms against the government to protest their marginalization. More than two million people fled their homes when government-backed militia attacked villages.

Ms. Blalock said most of these people are receiving relief assistance in unofficial camps. Although a ceasefire was signed last April, there have been violations by all sides and recently, the Janjaweed, which are bands of government-back militia, were reported to have turned on the government itself. A Janjaweed band attacked a police station in Geneina, along Sudan’s border with Chad, in order to free Janjaweed members who were being held in the police cells.

Ms. Blalock said the worsening security situation is preventing aid workers from reaching the people of West Darfur. “There are at least 170,000 people in West Darfur alone who are not getting full assistance because of the ongoing security situation.”

She told English to Africa reporter Ruby Ofori the United Nations and the African Union Mission in Sudan are holding talks with government and rebel representatives in the hope of improving the security environment.