Home | News    Thursday 19 August 2004

Number of displaced people rises in Darfur


By MOHAMED OSMAN, Associated Press Writer

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Aug 18, 2004 (AP) — Heavy rains and increasing numbers of displaced people from the Darfur conflict have the U.N.’s food relief agency gearing up for a "critical stage" in feeding victims of violence and instability in western Sudan, U.N. officials said Wednesday.

Radhia Achouri, a spokesperson for the United Nations Mission in Sudan, told reporters that the number of internally displaced persons in the Darfur region has increased to 1.2 million, up from 1 million reported last month.

Besides the internally displaced people, another 270,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance, "bringing the total number of conflict-affected people in Darfur to a staggering 1.48 million people," Achouri said.

"The civilian population fleeing to IDP camps and concentration areas is increasing because of reigning insecurity and fear of militia attacks," she added.

The United Nations says Darfur has become the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The world body says about 30,000 people have been killed in fighting since African rebels rose against the government in February 2003.

Since then, pro-government Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, have been accused of a campaign to drive the African Sudanese out of Darfur. The United Nations says about 180,000 Darfur refugees have also fled into neighboring Chad.

The U.N.’s World Food Program said it was urgently increasing its operations as the rainy season reached its peak in the Darfur region, according to a statement send to The Associated Press.

Starting Wednesday, the WFP planned to airlift nearly 100 tons of food daily into El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, the state worst affected by the rains. If the rains make the gravel and sand runway unusable, WFP will airdrop the food.

"Delivering food by air is an expensive option but at this time of the year we have no other choice in parts of Darfur," said WFP Sudan country director Ramiro Lopes da Silva. "The next six weeks will be critical as the rainy season really begins to bite we have a massive task ahead of us."

The WFP statement said other scheduled airdrops will continue to other locations, and the first 21 of 120 all-terrain trucks carrying trailers full of food supplies will leave Khartoum on Wednesday for the region.

It said WFP has signed agreements with other international nongovernment organizations to improve food distribution elsewhere in Darfur.

Meanwhile, the first shipment of aid sent by Italy, including high-protein food, tents and a generator, reached western Darfur earlier Wednesday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

A second flight was scheduled to leave next week, the statement said, adding that Italian aid group Intersos is helping provide the humanitarian relief.

Achouri said the United Nations remained concerned about the security situation but said government efforts to devise plans to address the problem were "positive."

On July 30, the U.N. Security Council gave Sudan 30 days to quell ethnic violence in Darfur or face economic or diplomatic penalties.

Sudan said it needed more time to end the crisis and rejected the threat of penalties, but the government agreed to comply with the resolution and has signed an agreement with the United Nations to establish "safe areas" in Darfur within 30 days where civilians will be free of attack.

African Union-sponsored peace talks are scheduled to be held in Nigeria on Aug. 23, bringing together Sudanese government officials and high-level delegations from the two rebel groups fighting government forces.

Nigeria is expected to send 150 troops to Darfur later this week, after the arrival of 150 Rwandan soldiers last week, to protect 80 African Union observers monitoring a rarely adhered to April 8 cease-fire agreement. Army spokesmen in Nigeria have so far given no date for their arrival in Sudan.

The African Union is considering beefing up its forces in Sudan to 1,800, beyond the 300 so far accepted by Sudan.

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