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Sudan Under Fire for Blocking Egeland Visit, Expelling Aid Group

The Sudanese government is under fire for blocking the visit of a top United Nations official to Darfur and Chad and for ordering a Norwegian aid group to leave Darfur.

United Nations humanitarian relief coordinator Jan Egeland late Tuesday accused the Sudanese government of trying to hide the suffering of thousands of displaced people and the deteriorating security situation in Darfur.

Egeland told reporters in Nairobi that his presence in Darfur and in refugee camps in neighboring Chad, which he could not get to because the Sudanese government would not let him fly over Darfur, would have re-focused international attention on what he calls "the worst crisis in the world."

The United States and other top U.N. officials have also condemned the Sudanese government for blocking the visit.

Also on Tuesday, the Sudanese government ordered the Norwegian Refugee Council to immediately stop its humanitarian work in the region.

David Mozersky is senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. He says he thinks the Sudanese government did not want Egeland, as other U.N. officials have done before him, to highlight the seriousness of the Darfur crisis.

He also criticizes the Sudanese government for sending the Norwegian Refugee Council packing.

"With the security situation worsening as well, particularly in West Darfur, humanitarian access has been deteriorating," said Mozersky. "So it's a critical time. It's certainly not helpful, and is in fact quite dangerous if the government is going to return to their earlier policies of severe restrictions and bureaucratic obstacles on humanitarian access."

Mozersky says that, several weeks ago, the Sudanese government shut down another aid agency in Darfur.

An adviser to Sudan's ministry of information and communications, Rabia Abdel Atti, tells VOA he believes the Sudanese government blocked Egeland's Darfur trip for fear that the U.N. official would spread false information about the region to the international community.

Atti says on-going negotiations in Nigeria between the government and two rebel groups operating in Darfur are on the verge of a major breakthrough, and that Egeland's visit would have a negative influence on the rebels during the talks.

"This will make them [the rebels] not be flexible in negotiations with Sudan government and they would think that maybe Sudan government will insist upon some points, and this will make the rebels not to understand the situation and will prolong the negotiations," he said.

Atti says the Sudanese government will not allow any information that will not help the negotiations to be disseminated, and says the government has the right to restrict Egeland and anyone else from flying in Sudanese airspace.

Atti says he is not aware of the situation with the Norwegian Refugee Council, but that the government allows many aid groups to work in Darfur.

The three-year-old Darfur conflict involves two main rebel groups, government troops and a militia many say is backed by the government. The United Nations estimates that some 200,000 people have died in the fighting and two million others have been displaced.