9 February 2004

Sudan: Gov't Will Not Attend Darfur Humanitarian Access Talks

Nairobi — The government of Sudan said on Monday it would not attend talks to discuss humanitarian access with rebels from the war-torn western Darfur region.

A government spokesman, Sa'id Khatib, told IRIN that the government had received no invitation take part in the talks being organised by the Geneva-based NGO, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD). "We are not going to attend, because nobody invited us," he said.

On Sunday, a CHD delegation held a meeting in the capital, Khartoum, with government representatives to discuss the government's participation.

Both Darfur's rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement, as well as the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance, which describes itself as a national political and military movement, but whose leadership stems from Darfur, said last week they would participate.

Dr Mutrif Siddiq Ali, the undersecretary of the Sudanese foreign ministry, told IRIN on Monday that the government would not attend, because the issue of access had been "politicised" too much. Issues of humanitarian access should not be "subject to manipulations" and used "as a tool for political and military gains", he said.

"They [the rebels] just want publicity, we are not for that," he said. "Besides, there was no guarantee that the rebels could "stick to the efforts mediated by a humanitarian dialogue," he added.

Mutrif Siddiq said Khartoum had attended the last round of peace talks in Chad in mid-December with a view to discussing with the SLA the disarmament of Darfur's armed groups and access to humanitarian aid, but the talks had broken down. "On our side, we are ready to open all corridors," he stressed. "We are ready to declare unilaterally the opening of access to Darfur. We don't think it should be politicised."

He told IRIN that the Sudanese High Commissioner for Refugees was going to Chad this week to discuss the return of the 110,000 refugees presently encamped along the border between the two countries.

Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told IRIN that the return of the refugees could only happen if the refugees themselves requested it. "As far as we know, the refugees in eastern Chad are still asking to be moved [further] inland into Chad for safety, and are not expressing any desire to go back to Darfur," she said.

Refugees are still fleeing to Chad from Sudanese government air raids, as well as army and militia attacks against civilians.

Jean de Cambry, the emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres in the eastern Chadian border town of Tine Chad, told IRIN on Monday that a new influx of refugees from Darfur had arrived there in the last four to five days, which appeared to number "thousands".

Meanwhile, the numbers of civilians displaced within Darfur have increased dramatically since December as militias working alongside the Sudanese army appear to have been given a carte blanche to rape and kill civilians and to loot and burn villages to the ground, say observers.

The largest concentration of displaced is currently around Kutum, northern Darfur, where numbers have risen from 38,000 in November to 60,000.

The World Food Programme (WFP) had delivered food to northern Darfur last week for the first time since November after the government issued security clearances to its staff, the WFP spokeswoman, Lara Melo, told IRIN.

About 28,000 people have camped around Junaynah in western Darfur since the beginning of January, while in southern Darfur up to 20,000 newly displaced people arrived last month from 18 villages in the Kas, Wastani, Jummayzah and Kalokitting areas.

Humanitarian access in southern and western Darfur continues to be very limited, say humanitarian sources.

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