Sudan, U.N. Reach Deal On Access In Darfur

Wednesday, March 28th 2007, 10:18 am
By: News On 6

ABECHE, Chad (AP) _ Sudan and the U.N. signed an agreement Wednesday to guarantee humanitarian access to refugees in Darfur, where violence and government restrictions have prevented aid from reaching victims of a bloody conflict.

The agreement ensures unrestricted travel by international aid workers throughout Sudan, including Darfur, upon notifying the central government of plans.

``I am cautiously pleased that this agreement has been signed and publicized,'' U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told The Associated Press while touring Darfur refugee camps in neighboring Chad. The ``important thing is whether they will actually implement what they say.''

Last week, Holmes warned that obstruction from Sudan's government and insecurity had created a fragile environment in Darfur that could push aid workers to pull out. Sudanese troops last week barred Holmes from visiting a refugee camp in Darfur, although the government later apologized and allowed him to tour camps.

Despite the sign of cooperation on the humanitarian front, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir remained firm in his refusal to allow U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.

At an Arab summit in the Saudi capital, al-Bashir insisted the U.N. should only provide financial and technical help to some 7,000 African Union peacekeepers who have been unable to end Darfur's escalating violence.

Al-Bashir said a United Nations plan to deploy a 20,000-member joint AU-U.N. peacekeeping force would violate Sudan's sovereignty and ``provoke the conflict in Darfur, instead of finding a solution for it.''

``We assure you that we do not desire a confrontation with the international community, but what we are seeking is to keep the African color of the forces in Darfur according to the shape and leadership, but on condition that the U.N. will take over the financial, technical and logistic support for those forces,'' he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was hoping to meet the Sudanese president at the Arab summit _ perhaps along with Saudi King Abdullah _ in another attempt to persuade al-Bashir to accept the U.N. peacekeepers. Last week, Ban failed to persuade Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to pressure al-Bashir.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes since ethnic African fighters took up arms four years ago, complaining of neglect and discrimination from Sudan's Arab-dominated government.

The U.N. says the conflict has chased another 86,000 people from their homes this year and blames the vast majority of these new refugees on violence perpetrated by central Sudanese government forces or their allied janjaweed militias.

Some 4 million people caught in the fighting are in need of aid.

Holmes said the most important aspect of the new deal was a monitoring committee to be jointly chaired by the Sudanese minister of humanitarian affairs and the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Sudan.

The committee will fast-track visa procedures for Darfur-bound aid workers and process applications for work permits within 15 days and visas within two days. Applications are backlogged until January 2008. The committee will have representatives from international and national aid groups, the Arab League and foreign donors.

The government also agreed to guarantee that all humanitarian equipment held at customs would be immediately released and that subsequent imports would be processed within seven working days.

Holmes said the committee will ``actually look at issues that are a problem and will make sure promises are implemented.''

``I hope it will make a difference to humanitarians on the ground, and therefore make life better for those they're trying to help,'' he said.