Sudan UN official blocked from Darfur camp

The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator arrived today in the strife-torn Darfur region of Sudan but was blocked at a military checkpoint and denied permission to continue to a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). But six hours after arriving on the ground in Darfur, his convoy was stopped at a military checkpoint in Kutum town and denied permission to continue to Kassab IDP camp. Mr. Holmes had planned to tour this camp in order to meet with community leaders and speak with women about the consequences of the ongoing Darfur crisis, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which he heads. The 22,700 inhabitants at Kassab camp depend on humanitarian aid for survival. “The United Nations and its NGO partners are keeping these people alive, and we are not allowed in. We should be allowed to move freely,” said Mr. Holmes from the Kutum airfield this afternoon. “I fear this is typical of what aid workers trying to make a difference in Darfur deal with on a daily basis.” There are half a dozen international NGOs and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) working in Kutum, some of whom have only recently returned after temporarily or partially suspending their programmes due to the deteriorating security situation. Clashes between rebel factions, Sudanese Government forces, and proxy militia have been going on in the area since late 2006, with the civilian population caught in the crossfire. Over the past four years in Darfur as a whole, the fighting has killed at least 200,000 people.Government officials who later contacted the Under-Secretary-General apologized for the incident and offered him their assurances that his visit to Jebel Marra and to Abu Shouk IDP camp tomorrow would go smoothly, OCHA said. “Tomorrow I look forward to conducting scheduled visits to these locales,” Mr. Holmes said, after accepting the apology. Mr. Holmes will spend the night in El Fasher and plans to visit Jebel Marra and the Abu Shouk IDP camp on Sunday, 25 March, before returning to Khartoum. In another development, the UN Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, and his African Union counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim, are conducting a second joint visit to Sudan this week in a bid to re-energize the peace process in Darfur.They met on Saturday 24 March with Foreign Minister Lam Akol, Presidential Adviser Majzoub Al Khalifa, and Senior Assistant to the President Minni Minnawi, according to the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). Today, the officials met in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, with local government officials, tribal leaders, IDPs and civil society representatives as well as UN and NGOs staff.Prior to his arrival in Khartoum, Mr. Eliasson was in Asmara where he met with the Eritrean President and other government officials on the coordination of Eritrean mediation efforts in Darfur with those of the UN and the AU. Meanwhile, the fighting continues, according to UNMIS, which cited reports that on Saturday, armed Arab tribesmen attacked Sirba village, where three people were killed, 15 others injured and 35 houses destroyed. 25 March 2007The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator arrived today in the strife-torn Darfur region of Sudan but was blocked at a military checkpoint and denied permission to continue to a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). read more