Darfur getting more dangerous: UN humanitarian chief
KHARTOUM (AFP) — Sudan's war-torn Darfur is becoming ever more dangerous, warned the UN's top humanitarian official on Sunday, calling for rapid progress towards a political settlement after a government ceasefire.
"The longer this conflict goes on, the more dangerous it becomes in terms of the ability to return to normality as it was before," John Holmes, UN emergency relief coordinator, told a news conference after a six-day visit to Sudan.
The Darfur conflict began in February 2003, when two rebel groups in the western part of the country rose up against the Arab-led Sudanese government.
Since then, the conflict has mushroomed into a hugely complex web of violence fought between myriad groups and marred increasingly by banditry.
UN officials estimate that up to 300,000 people have died, 2.7 million have fled their homes and that 4.7 million people receive aid in the world's biggest humanitarian relief operation -- set to cost one billion dollars in 2009.
Sudan, whose government has been heavily criticised in the West for brutally trying to suppress the uprising and unleashing Arab proxy militias, insists the death toll stands at 10,000 and dismisses other statistics as a conspiracy.
"The situation has not changed fundamentally in five years, except for its gradual deterioration in camps, still there five years later," said Holmes.
"The environment becomes ever more politicised and more difficult to operate in, and what is happening there in the camps (for displaced people) and elsewhere becomes more difficult to unravel," he added.
UN officials say security in Darfur has worsened considerably in 2008, with 11 humanitarian workers killed, 172 assaults on humanitarian premises, 261 vehicles hijacked and 170 staff temporarily abducted so far this year.
By September, overall UN accessibility in Darfur dropped to 65 percent for a region bigger than France, and humanitarian workers were forced to relocate 10 times, temporarily affecting assistance to nearly half a million people.
"Above all what we need to see in Darfur is a rapid political progress, a rapid political settlement... only that will enable the kind of progress we want to make in terms of development in Darfur," Holmes said.
On November 12, President Omar al-Bashir called a unilateral ceasefire, immediately rejected by rebels as a propaganda stunt to deflect looming international proceedings against him for alleged war crimes and genocide.
Since then rebel groups and witnesses have reported violence on the ground, and although the government insists any subsequent action was in self-defence only, past ceasefire declarations have come to nothing.
Holmes described the truce "as an important part" of political efforts being pressed by the African Union and UN mediator Djibril Bassole, and Qatar.
"I hope the processes, which are under way now, will produce some results in 2009, the efforts of the joint mediator Mr Bassole and the efforts of the Qatari government," he said.
"We're disappointed that there seemed to be some violence the other day, which did not correspond to that ceasefire.
"It's very important that the rebels also declare a ceasefire so we can have a proper ceasefire and that humanitarian work can be done in safety and peace," he said.