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Sudan Tribune

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UNICEF’s Mia Farrow visits Darfur

June 12, 2006 (NYALA, South Darfur) — Performers from Darfur’s various ethnic African and Arab tribes greeted actress Mia Farrow with dancing and singing as she arrived in Sudan’s remote western region to appeal for international aid for the 2.5 million people made refugees by the conflict here.

Mia_Farrow_greets_l.jpgFarrow, who is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund, was on her second visit to Darfur with her son Ronan, 17, who is a UNICEF youth spokesman.

The artists dancing side-by-side in Nyala — the capital of South Darfur — proved that ethnic groups could overcome the bitter enmity stemming from a four-year conflict that has killed more than 180,000 people, regional Culture Minister Abuker Eltom said upon greeting Farrow at the airport.

“This is a strong symbol of the unity of Sudan, it shows how we will rebuild confidence: through common culture and habits,” Eltom said.

Years of low-level clashes between tribes competing for Darfur’s scarce water and food resources erupted into open warfare in 2003 when a rebellion erupted against Khartoum, accusing it of neglect. Sudan’s government is accused of having unleashed in response Arab militias known as the janjaweed who are blamed for most of the rape, killing and looting. Khartoum denies the charges.

The Darfur Peace Agreement signed last month between the Sudanese government and the main rebel group will open the way for peace in the area, Eltom said.

Farrow was less convinced.

“Darfur is a humanitarian crisis of an order of magnitude I never witnessed before, and the picture is far more bleak today than since my last visit (in Nov. 2004),” Farrow said in an Associated Press interview Sunday.

Farrow, who began her film career with Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 and has appeared in more than 40 films, has been a UNICEF goodwill ambassador for the past decade.

She said the scenes of human suffering she had witnessed in Darfur had haunted her since her previous trip. “I never spend a day without thinking about it … it’s impossible to put Darfur out of one’s mind.”

While Sudanese authorities allow only a trickle of foreign visitors and press into Darfur, Farrow — who received a travel permit barely one day before her trip and whose meeting with the Sudanese minister of humanitarian affairs was canceled Sunday — said she would employ her “privileged” tour of the region to appeal for more international aid.

UNICEF says it only receives 20 percent of the funds it needs to cater to Darfur’s suffering masses, and the U.N.’s World Food Program has recently reduced food distribution to below the minimal rations because of lack of funding.

Farrow stressed that the increased number both of refugees and warring factions — more than 20 antagonist rebel groups and pro-government militias — made the job increasingly perilous for aid workers.

The hostility of many refugees to the peace agreement, which they feel will inadequately compensate them, has also made it more difficult to distribute aid to the dozens of refugee camps across the region.

“Humanitarian workers are doing such heroic work here, while politicians have done so little,” Farrow said, accusing the United States of “placing Darfur 17th on its list of priorities.”

She said United Nations chief Kofi Annan had vowed to provide a swift and appropriate response to the Darfur crisis, but that little had been done by the international community.

A 7,000-strong African Union force has so far failed to pacify the region, and appealed for the UN to take over peacekeeping. But the Sudanese government has shown little enthusiasm for the takeover.

(ST/AP)

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