The United States expressed renewed concern Monday about continuing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region despite the nominal cease-fire between the Sudanese government and local rebels reached more than a month ago.
Officials here are concerned not only about the reports of fighting in Darfur, but also slow action by Sudanese authorities in approving access to the troubled region that is hampering relief efforts as the rainy season there approaches.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States and others are "racing" to try to get help to displaced people in Darfur and refugees from Darfur in Chad before the rainy weather, due to arrive this month, makes deliveries more difficult and the spread of disease more likely.
The fighting in Darfur, mainly between local rebels and Arab militiamen backed by the Sudanese government, has killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced up to a million others, many of whom have fled into Chad.
A cease-fire signed April 8 in the Chadian capital Ndjamena was supposed to have stopped the violence and opened the area to humanitarian relief efforts. But Mr. Boucher said the fighting appears to be continuing and extending into Chad.
"We continue to receive reports of violence in Darfur, including encounters between the militias and the Chadian army," he said. "The United States urges all parties to respect the cease-fire. It calls on the government of Sudan to stop the militia activity and put an end to the violence."
Mr. Boucher said five members of a disaster-assessment team from the U.S. Agency for International Development arrived in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, Saturday and immediately submitted requests for travel to Darfur.
He said that regrettably, Sudanese authorities have taken several days to process such requests in the recent past.
The spokesman said two American officials are traveling with an African Union mission that arrived in Darfur Saturday to look for suitable locations to station cease-fire monitoring personnel, and to develop logistical plans for aid deliveries.
He said a planeload of U.S. donated relief supplies, the fourth to be dispatched in recent days, was due in the southern part of Darfur Monday. He also said the United States has made a new grant of more than $400,000 for Darfur refugees in Chad to the New York-based relief group, the International Rescue Committee. U.S. contributions for the Chad refugees now total more than $15 million.