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Darfur 'calm' says Sudanese official ahead of Annan visit

5/25/2005 2:28pm

EL FASHER, Sudan, May 25 (AFP) -- The security and humanitarian situation in Darfur has improved in recent months, a Sudanese official said Wednesday, on the eve of a visit by UN chief Kofi Annan to the war-wracked western region.
"The situation is calm," North Darfur state governor Yusef Kibir told AFP ahead of an international donors' conference in Ethiopia to be attended by Annan, at which African states that have spearheaded peace efforts between the Khartoum government and the ethnic minority rebels are seeking a major boost in aid.

Kibir said a frequently violated ceasefire in the more than two-year-old conflict also appeared to be largely holding, adding: "There have not been direct clashes between the movements and government forces recently."

The launch of the rebel uprising in early 2003 prompted the Khartoum government to unleash Arab militias in a scorched-earth campaign in which some 300,000 people have died and 2.4 million fled their homes, according to a British parliamentary report.

Khartoum and two main rebel groups in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) signed a ceasefire in Chad last April, but the violence has continued.

However, Kibir said: "The violations are few."

He conceded that there were isolated incidents of armed robbery and attacks on military and humanitarian convoys, but said their impact was minimal.

"The humanitarian situation is good," Kibir said, adding that the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in camps across Darfur had enough supplies for a few more months.

He said the main concern now was to help residents whose food supplies were threatened by last year's poor harvest.

The governor's comments coincided with a renewed call by the African Union on its 2,200 peacekeeping troops in Darfur to ensure their mission was success as the continent vies to demonstrate a capacity to put its own house in order.

"We must succeed in our mission," said Baba Gana Kingibe, head of the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS).

"May we all again be inspired to face the future with renewed vigour, loyalty and dedication to our collective responsibility to protect lives and provide an enabling environment for the political settlement of the conflict," said Kingibe, in an Africa Day speech read on his behalf by force commander Major General Festus Okonkwo.

Annan is to chair a donors' conference in Addis Ababa Thursday for the African Union's Darfur operation, with the 53-member pan-African body setting out a lengthy shopping list for contributions from NATO, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations.

Kingibe praised the performance of the AU force despite the logistical problems in monitoring security across a vast largely roadless region the size of France.

"Despite these obstacles, you have succeeded in such a short time to considerably improve the security situation in Darfur, thus enabling a more effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need," he said.

The situation in Darfur was highlighted in an Amnesty International report Wednesday which charged both Sudanese government forces and the rebels with a litany of rights abuses including mass executions and gang rapes.

The report from the London-based rights watchdog detailed bombings of civilians, torture, rape, summary executions, arbitrary trials, makeshift detention centres, widespread abuse of the displaced and a series of broken peace treaties.

"Thousands of civilians were killed and tens of thousands made homeless. Others were abducted. Hundreds of villages were destroyed or looted. Thousands of women were raped, sometimes in public," Amnesty charged.

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