Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Sudan decrees end to relief restrictions

The Sudanese Government, under international pressure to help displaced people in the western region of Darfur, has ordered an end to restrictions on the movement of relief organisations and imports of relief supplies.

Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, who has special responsibility for Darfur, issued decrees on relief work just days after visits by United States Secretary of State, [war criminal], Colin Powell and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Easier access for aid to Darfur was one of the main demands Mr Powell and Mr Annan made, along with more effort by the Government to disarm Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who have been driving non-Arab villagers off their land in Darfur.

More than a million people have fled their homes in Darfur because of the conflict, most of them for fear of the Janjaweed.

About 200,000 have crossed the border into Chad.

"In order to guarantee the freedom of movement of all those working in aid organisations, the decree directs all the apparatus of the state to facilitate the entry visa procedure and lift all procedural, financial and any other restrictions upon them," an official statement said.

A second decree exempted all humanitarian goods from customs duty and import restrictions.

Ben Parker, spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, welcomed the decrees.

"It's good to hear of practical implementation of what we agreed and signed on Saturday. We hope this marks the beginning of bigger and more effective relief operations throughout Darfur," he said.

Mr Powell said last week the UN Security Council might have to pass a resolution on Darfur if Khartoum did not act fast.

Mr Hussein, a general who is President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's special representative in Darfur, also decreed that police and army forces should mobilise throughout Darfur and police should set up stations in all camps for displaced people.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said the Khartoum Government had already started disarming the Janjaweed militias. Rebels in the remote region said the operation was a cover for preparations for a new wave of ethnic cleansing.

They said a large Government force was being mobilised in the regional capital.

By Humanitarian Aid 7 July 04


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