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UN Humanitarian Agency Says Darfur Violence Hampering Relief Efforts

Saturday marked one year since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement between the government of Sudan and one Darfur rebel group. But instead of bringing peace to the region, the agreement has lead to more violence, which has crippled the world's largest humanitarian operation. Noel King has this report from Khartoum.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says relief work in Darfur has been jeopardized by the very agreement that was supposed to bring peace to the region.

The U.N. organization says the splintering of rebel factions, which followed the signing of the accord has lead to anarchy in Darfur.

Antoine Gerard, manager of the Darfur section at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says aid access has dwindled.

"We have seen a progressive deterioration of the situation in Darfur since May 2006. For the humanitarian community it's a nightmare. It's a nightmare in terms of security. It's a nightmare in terms of designing your humanitarian response," said Gerard.

Days after the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed, there were indicators the accord was in trouble.

Only one rebel faction of the Sudan Liberation Army signed on to the deal. Others claimed it did not meet their demands of wealth and power sharing.

Within weeks, full-scale infighting among rebels had displaced tens of thousands of people.

Aids groups say the obstacles to relief work are now immense.

Humanitarian workers no longer know which rebel groups they should contact when traveling in relief convoys to provide aid.

When convoys come under attack, it is almost impossible to identify the culprits.

Gerard says attacks on aid workers, which increased late last year, caused the withdrawal of humanitarian staff across the region.

"Since May we've seen this as well: an increase in violence against humanitarian workers," added Gerard. "It is another area of concern that the violence has extended also against those who are providing humanitarian assistance."

Aid workers in areas held by former rebels have been raped and beaten. In government controlled areas, Sudanese police have beaten and sexually

assaulted both Sudanese and international humanitarian staff.

The international community has launched intense diplomatic efforts to get holdout rebels to sign on to the peace deal, still considered the best way to bring peace to Darfur.

The conflict began in 2003 when rebels rose against Sudan's powerful Islamist regime, complaining that remote Darfur was undeveloped due to neglect.

Sudan is charged with arming Arab militias known as janjaweed to crush the rebellion.

An estimated 200,000 people have died since the start of the conflict, with 2.5 million others displaced by fighting and wholly dependent upon humanitarian aid.