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Food Distribution Halted in Parts of Darfur  - 2004-09-02

The World Food Program says it has stopped distributing food in an area within the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan where three of its staff members and three more from another relief agency were abducted last weekend. The World Food Program says it has prohibited its people to go to the region until security there can be guaranteed.

WFP spokesman Marcus Prior says no WFP or U.N. staff members will be allowed into an area south of El Fashir until the United Nations determines the area is secure.

"We are hopeful that U.N. security will be able to declare those places safe for our operations so that the people that they were trying to register are able to receive WFP assistance," he says.

This is the place where rebels abducted three WFP workers and three employees of the Sudanese Red Crescent last Saturday.

The workers were freed Wednesday after the United Nations negotiated their release with the Sudan Liberation Army, one of two rebel groups operating in Darfur.

The relief workers were abducted while on a mission to take a headcount of Sudanese refugees in need of food rations. Mr. Prior says that process has been put on hold.

"Obviously, a registration comes before food distribution, and this will delay the delivery of food assistance to these people until such time as the area is cleared for us to return to it," he says.

It is unclear how many people will be affected by the WFP decision.

The U.N. Security Council is discussing a report by the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, that blasts Khartoum for failing to stop attacks on civilians and gives it a mixed grade in compliance with U.N. conditions.

The Security Council had threatened Sudan with sanctions if it did not stop the crisis in Darfur.

The 18-month-old conflict in Darfur has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has displaced an estimated one-and-a-quarter-million more.