The United Nations says a high-level delegation is scheduled to visit the war-torn region of Darfur in western Sudan later this month to further assess what the world body calls the world's greatest humanitarian and human-rights catastrophe.
A spokesman for the United Nations Population Fund in Khartoum, Nimal Hettiaratchy, says a 10-member team, led by the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, will travel to Darfur from April 18 to 21.
?The purpose of this mission is to review and assess the humanitarian situation and assistance needed in the Darfur region, and this is at the invitation of the president of the Republic of Sudan,? Mr. Hettiaratchy said.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir extended the invitation to the United Nations on Sunday, following a meeting of government officials, U.N. representatives and other non-governmental organizations in Khartoum.
A government spokesman later told reporters that Khartoum had agreed to cooperate with the United Nations on setting up a committee to develop an emergency relief program for Darfur.
Under growing international pressure to allow humanitarian access into Darfur and to negotiate an end to the devastating, year-long civil war, the Sudanese government has been showing more willingness to engage in peace efforts. Last Tuesday, government officials and western-based rebels held their first direct talks in neighboring Chad, where both sides agreed to observe a 45-day cease-fire. The cease-fire went into effect late Sunday.
The U.N. mission to Darfur later this month is also expected to investigate allegations of widespread atrocities being committed by Arab militias against Africans in western Sudan.
U.N. officials and human-rights groups have accused the so-called janjawid militias of raping, looting, and killing African civilians and burning down entire communities.
Darfur's two main rebel groups and refugees say the government has been supporting the janjawid with arms and troop reinforcements. One U.N. official has described the situation as a Rwanda-style genocide in the making. The Sudanese government denies the accusation.
Thousands of people have been killed in Darfur and more than 800,000 displaced within the region since the civil war began.
Another 110,000 people have fled into Chad, where aid workers say the refugees are increasingly facing the threat of famine and disease.