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World Food Program Urges Sudan to Cooperate to Avoid Darfur Famine - 2004-05-04

The U.N. food agency says the government of Sudan must cooperate to avert famine in the western region of Darfur, where factional fighting has driven one-million people from their homes.

The World Food Program director, James Morris, has just returned from leading a U.N. delegation to Sudan and Chad to assess effects from the Darfur conflict between black Sudanese rebels and government-backed Arab militiamen.

Mr. Morris told a London news conference Tuesday the Sudanese government bears what he called "an enormous responsibility" to provide protection to people who have been uprooted. "This is a very, very serious humanitarian crisis. In fact a million people in the most violent way have been driven from their homes. About half of them are now in camps, and half of them are still wandering around in the hills and who knows where," he said.

Mr. Morris said that some burned out villages have only a few old men left in them, and most of the displaced people are afraid to go home. "They are frightened, very frightened. I mean. I cannot overstate that, and the government needs to behave in such a way that security comes back. But there is a great gap of trust and confidence between the population and the government, so the government's got a big job to do," he said.

Mr. Morris said U.N. agencies are prepared to help with food, shelter, clothing and other basic supplies, but the Sudanese government must cooperate. "For us to make progress on these issues, the government has to do its job, in terms of protection and security. The world won't tolerate a million people being at risk," he said.

Fighting in Darfur broke out a year ago, when two rebel groups took up arms, accusing the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum of ignoring the needs of the region's predominately black African population.

Human rights observers and people displaced by the fighting say an Arab militia, called the janjaweed, has burned and raided villages across Darfur with air support from the Sudanese military.

The government denies there is a campaign of ethnic cleansing, though it has acknowledged human rights violations.