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5/20/04 - SUDAN BLOCKS RELIEF WORKERS - 2004-05-20

Ethnic cleansing has driven more than one-million people from their homes in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. As many as thirty-thousand people may already have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more are at risk of starvation without massive relief efforts.

The victims in Darfur are black African farmers. They have been attacked by militias, mainly the Arab Janjaweed, armed and supported by the Sudanese army. The militias have burned villages and committed numerous atrocities, including rape and murder. A cease-fire has been negotiated, but there is little evidence that the Sudanese government and the Arab militias are living up to it.

While efforts continue to halt the fighting, the U.S. is working with United Nations agencies and international aid groups to get humanitarian relief to people displaced within Darfur, as well as more than one-hundred thousand who have fled into neighboring Chad. The U.S. has already flown millions of dollars’ worth of food and other supplies to the region.

But despite promises to cooperate, the Sudanese government is making relief efforts very difficult. Among other things, Sudanese officials have refused to issue travel permits to relief workers on a reasonable basis. Adam Ereli, State Department deputy spokesman, explains what happened to one group of U.S. relief workers trying to get into Darfur:

“The permits are for only three days. You get your permit, then you apply to travel, and you have to apply to travel seventy-two hours prior to the time you travel. So, by the time you travel, your permit is no longer valid.”

Mr. Ereli says the U.S. will continue pressing to get aid to Darfur:

“The government of Sudan knows our concerns. There are people suffering in Darfur. It’s urgent that humanitarian workers be allowed to go there. And we will continue to work to resolve this situation and get help to the people who need it.”

Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake. There must be no further delay in providing relief workers with unrestricted access to Darfur.