U.N. humanitarian chief visits Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region
KHARTOUM, Sudan – The United Nations humanitarian chief visited Sudan’s western Darfur region on Sunday to gauge living conditions for civilians displaced by violence between government-backed militias and rebel groups, the U.N. said.Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, had been barred by the Sudanese government from visiting Darfur and Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, in April.His visit to the region Sunday came two days after Sudanese authorities and Darfur’s main rebel group reached a peace agreement that could help end a conflict that has killed at least 180,000 people in three years and displaced some 2 million.Sudan’s government said Saturday that the peace accord could pave the way for it to welcome U.N. peacekeepers, as mediators worked to persuade the rest of the fractured rebel movement to join the process.Egeland said Wednesday that Khartoum had invited him to tour Darfur through Monday, and then travel to eastern Chad “to complete the journey that was aborted nearly one month ago.”The U.N. said Egeland arrived in the Darfur city of Nyala on Sunday morning and was to visit Sudanese refugees in the town of Gereida and nearby camps.The suggestion that U.N. peacekeepers might be allowed in Darfur overturns previous rejections by Khartoum, which so far has allowed only African Union peacekeepers.Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in Darfur, a vast region about the size of France, erupted into large-scale violence in early 2003 with rebels demanding regional autonomy. The government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab tribal Janjaweed militias upon civilians in farming villages, a charge Sudan denies.The peace deal calls for a cease-fire, disarmament of government-linked militias, the integration of thousands of rebel fighters into Sudan’s armed forces and a protection force for civilians in the immediate aftermath of the war.Yet there were concerns the deal could fall apart. Both sides have a history of failing to honor agreements, and the fledgling accord was struck with only one rebel group and only under intense pressure from the United States, which sent Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick and letters from President Bush.
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