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Sudan Lifts Restrictions on Aid to Troubled Darfur Region - 2004-07-06

The government of Sudan has lifted restrictions on aid and relief workers headed to the troubled western region of Darfur. The action follows visits to Sudan by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. They warned of possible sanctions against the government if nothing was done to ease the crisis.

The decrees issued by the government late Monday was met with cautious optimism by the United Nations Children's Fund.

UNICEF spokesperson Paula Claycomb says the U.N. has yet to be formally notified of the government's decision, but would welcome it.

"It would be good news. Anything that eases both the flow of people and goods into Darfur is bound to be good news," said Ms. Claycomb.

One decree calls for government agencies to facilitate visa procedures for aid workers and to lift any restrictions on them. A second decree exempts humanitarian goods from customs duties and allows aid groups to operate in Darfur unhindered.

Both U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Sudan last week to press the government to open the flow of aid to Darfur.

Ethnic-Arab Janjaweed militias are blamed for driving more than a million people in the Darfur from their homes for the relative safety of refugee camps.

There they face hunger and disease. The squalid conditions in the camp are expected to get worse with the arrival of the rainy season.

Until recently, the Sudanese government allowed little access to humanitarian aid. Even with restrictions lifted, Ms. Claycomb says it will be difficult to reach all the refugees.

"Darfur is a region the size of France. So it's gigantic. It's one million people so we're not talking about a small number.

"They're spread out over at least 100 locations in that region," she added. "It's highly underdeveloped which means that there are very few airports and even fewer paved roads." Human rights groups charge that the government orchestrated a campaign of terror by the Janjaweed against civilians as a means of putting down a rebellion launched by two insurgent groups.

The government denies the charges, saying that the Janjaweed are outlaws who have taken advantage of a lawless situation.