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09 March 2005

2005 Crucial Year for Sudan, U.N. Official Says

Aid coordinator calls for more troops in Darfur

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- The people in Darfur and southern Sudan face a "make or break" year in 2005, depending on whether humanitarian aid and African Union peacekeepers are increased, says the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator.

Returning from a four-day trip to Sudan, Jan Egeland, U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator, said March 9 that "there is no other place in the world where so many lives are at stake.  If it goes well, we could have a historic turning to the better for 6 million internally displaced -- that is five times more than were displaced by the Indian Ocean tsunami.  If it goes bad, it could be a situation of mass death, mass suffering for millions of people."

Egeland described starkly contrasting situations in the country's Darfur region, which is receiving generous aid even as the fighting continues and atrocities are being committed daily, and in southern Sudan, where financial aid is trickling in despite a historic peace agreement signed in January.

In Darfur, nutrition is now better in the major camps for the internally displaced than it was in the general population before the war, he said.  But "there stops the good news.  If you move beyond the camps, the killing continues.  Women are systematically abused and raped."

The U.N. official said that he received "documented reports of hundreds and hundreds of cases of rape" and saw villages that were burned to the ground by government forces and Jingaweit militia as late as January, well after Khartoum had pledged to stop all attacks against civilians.

"The situation is totally out of control and it is not being stopped," he said.

Egeland said that the 10,000 international humanitarian aid workers in Darfur need to be matched by 10,000 African Union (AU) troops.  Instead, only 2,000 of the 4,000 troops promised by the African Union are deployed.

"The African Union mission is a tremendous success -- where it is and where they have deployed," he said.

With a sizable African Union force in place, "the killings would definitely go down dramatically and immediately, and so would gender-based violence and other atrocities," Egeland said.

The U.N. official said he hoped the Security Council would "come forward much more decisively" and "come up this time with strong pressure on both the parties" to stop fighting.

The Security Council is currently negotiating a resolution that would include sanctions and would determine the appropriate venue to hear cases against those accused of human rights abuses.

The conflict is affecting the nomads, cattle herdsmen, and farmers, thus making Darfur's prospects "very bleak," he said.  The number of internally displaced in Darfur rose from 1 million in June 2004 to 2 million in March 2005.  If farmers and herdsmen do not return to work, Egeland estimated, there could be 3 to 4 million people to feed and care for in a few months.

In southern Sudan the situation is very different, the U.N. official said.

The political pressure is on and the security element will soon be in place, but there is no money to help returning refugees and to reintegrate former combatants into village life, Egeland said.

Darfur has received about one-third of the $691 million requested, mostly food aid from the United States, he said.  In contrast, only about 10 percent of the $563 million requested for the South has been pledged.

Without aid, "peace will not succeed" in southern Sudan, Egeland said.  If former combatants are not helped, "they will live by the gun again.  It is as simple as that," he explained.

The aid coordinator added that "the window of opportunity [for southern Sudan] is closing because the rainy season starts in May and June.  One dollar received today is worth twice as much as one dollar received in June because it is the season when we are largely paralyzed and we have to do food drops."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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