The United Nations' top humanitarian official continued a trip to Sudan, meeting leaders in the country's semi-autonomous southern region. On Thursday, the government said it would allow applications from new international NGO's to operate in the western Darfur region, filling the gap left when the government expelled 13 agencies in March.

At the start of a five-day visit to Sudan, the UN's Undersecretary-General for Humantiarian Affairs, John Holmes met with Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Minister Haroun Loual.

Holmes said that he was disappointed by Sudan's expulsion of 13 international NGOs from Darfur in March, following the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, but welcomed efforts to expand humanitarian operations in Darfur.

"We had very good discussions about how we can improve the operating environment and to go back to something better than we had before the fourth of March," he said.  "I think everybody agrees that that will be highly desirable."

Loual said that while the expelled NGOs will not be allowed to return to Darfur, new international agencies would be invited, and restrictions on travel and visas will be eased.

Holmes said the UN was still looking at how to restructure the humanitarian operation in the region.

"How to monitor what's actually happening on the ground to make sure we are filling the gaps that have been left by these expulsions in a sustainable way. How to monitor the kind of aid deliveries happening. How to monitor what is also an important part of all this which is the safety and security not only of the people we are trying to help on the ground but also the aid workers themselves," said Holmes.

The UN says as many as 300,000 people have died as a result of the war in Darfur since 2003, and some 2.7 million have been displaced, though the intensity of the conflict has subsided in recent years. The Sudanese government says the figures are much lower.

On Friday, Holmes continued his visit with a trip to Juba, the capital of semi-autonomous southern Sudan, where he was scheduled to meet with southern leaders about the humanitarian effort in the south, which is recovering from a two-decade civil war that ended in 2005.

Holmes is expected to visit Darfur on Saturday.

The United States envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, also attended the meeting with Holmes and Loual. Gration also met with Southern Sudanese president Salva Kiir and with Nafi al Nafi an advisor to President Bashir. Gration called for Sudan to ensure that its national elections, scheduled for February are "credible". He also said the US was committed to supporting a referendum in 2011 to determine whether southern Sudan will secede from the north.