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Aid groups again denied access to Darfur camp

Aid groups again denied access to Darfur camp

Published August 18, 2010

UNITED NATIONS – Sudanese authorities on Tuesday again prevented aid workers from entering a camp for 80,000 displaced people in South Darfur, a day after allowing a small group in for the first time in two weeks to deliver medicine and fuel to operate water pumps.

United Nations deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said representatives of U.N. agencies and humanitarian organizations wanted to return to Kalma Camp to further assess conditions and additional humanitarian needs but were denied access.

Tensions have been high at Kalma since late July, when demonstrations by opponents of peace talks with the government turned violent, leaving at least five people dead. The camp has a strong base of supporters of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, which is not taking part in talks in Doha, Qatar, aimed at ending the seven-year war in Darfur.

International aid workers travel to the camp every day, and when they arrived on Aug. 2 Sudanese authorities refused to let them enter and the ban was extended to local aid groups as well.

On Monday, several U.N. agencies and local aid groups working in Kalma were allowed in for the first time since then for a quick assessment.

The team visited different areas of the camp, finding parts empty after people fled following the recent tensions, said Samuel Hendricks, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan. They also delivered fuel for water pumps, which ran out of fuel last week, and medicine to one clinic.

Although aid workers have been barred from Kalma, the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force has stepped up patrols in the camp.

Haq, the U.N. spokesman, said the assessment team reported "that camp residents confirmed improvements in the overall security situation and thanked U.N. peacekeepers for increased patrols and other efforts to protect civilians."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern Monday that recent attacks on international peacekeepers and abductions and mistreatment of U.N. staff and humanitarian workers have contributed to a deterioration of the situation in Darfur. He urged the government to ensure humanitarian access and apprehend and bring to justice those who attack U.N. staff and humanitarian workers.

In the latest incident, the Sudanese army said Tuesday it rescued two Jordanian police advisers with the U.N.-AU force who were abducted near their home in South Darfur on Saturday. The U.N. said they were in good health.

Haq said Tuesday the U.N. is still trying to clarify reports that Sudan is expelling five staff working for the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in West Darfur.

The U.N. has said constraints on aid agencies operating in the vast Darfur region of western Sudan have been steadily increasing since March 2009, when 11 international aid organizations were expelled.

At a recent gathering, President Omar al-Bashir told local Darfur officials that they can act independently "to expel and order out any international organization or agency or any quarter that exceeds its stipulated mandate or tries to obstruct the work of the local authorities."

Fighting in Darfur that began with a 2003 rebellion by groups who accused the government of neglecting the vast desert region has left up to 300,000 people dead and forced 2.7 million to flee their homes, according to U.N. figures.

Several rebel groups have negotiated peace agreements with the government but two major armed groups, the SLA and the Justice and Equality Movement, have refused. The U.N. Security Council on July 30 called for an immediate halt to the escalating violence in Darfur and demanded that all rebel groups to join peace talks.

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Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo

Written by EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer

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