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Top UN Envoy Paints Grim Picture After Darfur Visit

A top United Nations envoy has painted a grim picture of the humanitarian situation in Darfur. One day after a visit to the troubled region, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, says the brunt of violence in Darfur has been aimed at women and children.

Violence against women and children continues unchecked in Darfur, the U.N.'s top humanitarian envoy told reporters in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on Tuesday. Calling the situation in Darfur a security crisis rather than a humanitarian crisis, Egeland charged that civilians are increasingly at risk.

"I have just witnessed how bad it has become again in Darfur in the last few months. In the Gerieda area, in south Darfur, tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the last weeks and months alone. And it is continuing in a relentless way. What is happening is that armed men attack defenseless women and children. This is not a war between armed soldiers. This is a war between those who use arms to abuse and attack civilians," he said.

Egeland says tempers among Darfur's displaced people are beginning to flare as they demand United Nations intervention in the region. The Sudan government has refused calls for a U.N. peacekeeping force.

On Monday, the U.N. official left the Kalma camp for internally displaced Dafuris when residents began attacking U.N. vehicles. Residents later hacked to death a translator from the African Union peacekeeping force.

Despite the problems, Egeland said there is still hope for peace in the region following the signing of a peace agreement between Darfuri rebels and the Sudan government last week.

Some observers have charged that the agreement is doomed to failure because at two of the rebel factions have refused to sign onto the deal.

Egeland said the coming weeks in Darfur will be critical.

"This is the moment of truth. This is the critical phase. This is when we either turn toward something better or something worse. The next few weeks will be fateful. I do foresee a lot of tension, a lot of problems, a lot of uphill now for all of us. But I think we are heading towards something better. To continue like now is really a disaster scenario," he said.

Egeland's visit comes in the wake of severe food shortages, as donors have pledged less money to the ravaged region. President George Bush on Monday asked the U.S. Congress for an additional $225 million in emergency food aid for Darfur.

The fighting in Darfur, now in its third year, started when armed militias began attacking rebel groups in the region. Critics say the militias, called Janjaweed, have government support, but Khartoum denies this. Tens of thousands have died and some two million more have been displaced in what the U.S. calls genocide.