By HARRY DUNPHY, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, April 29, 2004 (AP) — Sudan has agreed to allow American aid experts to inspect humanitarian needs in the western Darfur region where a conflict has displaced more than 800,000 people, a State Department official said Thursday.
Spokesman Adam Ereli said Sudan would grant visas to all 28 members of an assistance team to evaluate the situation in Darfur. Sudanese government-backed militias have fought insurgents in the area for more than a year.
“This is a positive move,” Ereli said. “We would urge the government of Sudan to issue the visas as expeditiously as possible so that our experts can begin to address the situation in Darfur. We don’t see any reason for unnecessary delays.”
The department had criticized Sudan on Wednesday for refusing to issue the visas.
Ereli expressed concern about credible reports of continuing attacks by the militias, known as the Janjaweed, on civilians in the Darfur area, home to one-fifth of Sudan’s 30 million people.
“We reiterate our calls on the government to rein in the Janjaweed and stop all civilian attacks immediately,” Ereli said.
Andrew S. Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said this week that Darfur represented the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today. He said that food and other supplies had to reach Darfur by early June because rains would make roads impassible and a “humanitarian catastrophe” would ensue.
Human rights groups say the government is giving air support to Arab tribal militias in Darfur. The government says the tribesmen are defending themselves against autonomy-seeking rebels, but denies aiding them.
In Darfur, which is predominantly Muslim, the conflict is between Africans and Arabs.