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UN Aid Chief: Situation in Darfur Deteriorating

The top U.N. humanitarian aid official says the number of desperately needy people in Darfur has reached four million, and is rising sharply. Undersecretary-General Jan Egeland estimates one million people totally dependent on assistance are beyond the reach of aid workers. VOA's correspondent at the United Nations, Peter Heinlein, has details of Mr. Egeland's latest report to the Security Council.

After a period of relative peace in Darfur, conditions are deteriorating rapidly as government-backed Arab militias step up attacks on civilians.

In a report to the Security Council on his just completed visit to the region, U.N. humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland says large new militias are being armed, violating measures the Council approved over the past two years.

He says death rates that hit emergency levels two years ago, then fell as aid workers arrived, are on the rise again. Egeland says the number of desperately needy people has quadrupled since he first visited Darfur.

"I saw a dramatic deterioration of the situation in Darfur," said Jan Egeland. "I was there in 2004 when one million people were in need, I was there again in 2005 when there were two million people in need. On my third visit this spring there were three million people in need, and now there are four million people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, and that in a climate of massive rearmament. The Arab militias are being armed to the teeth by the government, the rebels getting arms across the border."

Egeland says as militia attacks and banditry escalate, aid deliveries are increasingly risky. He told the Security Council one in four desperately needy Darfurians is completely cut off from assistance.

"Ninety five percent of the roads in Darfur are no-go," he said. "We can't go by road except with massive military escort and there will be hundreds of thousands who are beyond our reach, and where we seem to have little hope of resuming activities unless we see a dramatic change for the better, but the reality is that change is to the worse."

Egeland expresses hope that a planned infusion of U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur might make a difference in Darfur. A seven-thousand strong African Union force currently in the region is said to be hopelessly understaffed in an area the size of France.

But Sudanese officials have sent mixed signals about their willingness to allow foreign troops into Darfur. They say a U.N. force would be a front for western colonization.

In the meantime, Egeland says talk of possible progress at recent high-level talks in Addis Ababa masks a grim reality on the ground.

"It's a complete disconnect, people believe we're making big progress because we make agreements on paper, but the reality on the ground is that we have a meltdown," noted Jan Egeland. "In security, the humanitarians are confined to the towns. We cannot even reach many of the camps."

Egeland reported equally disturbing conditions in refugee camps in neighboring Chad. He tells of refugees fleeing back to Darfur to escape the increasing Janjaweed attacks along the Chad / Sudan border.

The U.N. official cut short his visit to Darfur last week after Sudanese officials blocked his access to camps, citing insecurity.

Nearly four years of fighting in Darfur have led to the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people. The conflict began in early 2003 when rebels attacked government positions, complaining that Khartoum was neglecting the remote region.

Sudanese officials says western nations are exaggerating the level of violence in Darfur.