Blair calls for action against Sudan

Monday, March 26, 2007
Darfur refugees, who stood outside their make-shift shelters Sunday in this derelict section of Es Sallam camp, say they have been waiting nine months to be relocated to decent shelters. But with 45,000 refugees, aid workers say Es Sallam is at saturation point and they are negotiating with Sudanese authorities for the opening of a new camp. (Alfred de Montesquiou ~ Associated Press)

ES SALLAM, Sudan -- Britain and Germany called Sunday for tougher action against Sudan to end four years of bloodshed in Darfur, where the new U.N. humanitarian chief warned of a possible collapse in the massive effort to aid refugees from the violence.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the actions of Sudan's government "unacceptable" and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Darfur region's suffering "unbearable."

Experts say the few economic sanctions imposed on Sudan by the United States and European Union have had little effect, and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon recently voiced his frustration at Sudan's government for refusing to let a 22,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force into Darfur.

On his first tour of the region, John Holmes, the new U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said the aid effort there -- the largest in the world with some 14,000 aid workers and over $1 billion spent -- was "fragile."

"If the situation deteriorates, it could collapse," Holmes said.

U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs John Holmes inspected drawings handed to him by Darfur children Sunday in the Es Sallam refugee camp in northern Darfur, Sudan.

Sudan has angered the West by repeatedly rejecting the U.N. peacekeepers. And prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, linked Sudan's government to atrocities in Darfur, naming a junior minister as a war-crimes suspect.

"The actions of the Sudanese government are completely unacceptable," Blair said at EU anniversary meetings in Berlin. "We need to get a new resolution in the United Nations which extends the sanctions regime ... We need to consider, in my view, a no-fly zone."

Protected by its top ally, China, which has veto power at the U.N. Security Council, Sudan has so far avoided any harsh U.N. sanctions for the atrocities committed in Darfur.

Some 4 million people are in need of aid, either living in refugee camps or threatened by the fighting between local rebels, the Sudanese government and the pro-government janjaweed militia, the U.N. says.

The conflict has chased 86,000 more people from their homes this year alone, the U.N. says, blaming the vast majority of these new refugees on violence perpetrated by Sudanese government forces and the janjaweed.

Overall, more than 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million others -- mostly ethnic African villagers -- have fled to refugee camps, where most survive on aid provided by U.N. agencies or private groups.

The conflict began when members of Darfur's ethnic African tribes rebelled against what they consider decades of neglect and discrimination by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum. Sudanese leaders are accused of unleashing the pro-government Arab militia, the janjaweed, that has committed many of the conflict's atrocities.

In the last year, as the violence has escalated, the Sudanese government has repeatedly bombed rebel groups across Darfur's vast spaces -- the apparent focus of Blair's call for a no-fly zone there to protect civilians.

Sudan's government had no immediate reaction.

Inspecting the Es Sallam refugee camp on the outskirts of El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, Holmes said obstruction from Sudan's government and insecurity on the ground have created an environment where "morale is fragile" and could push aid workers to pull out, he said.

He spoke a day after being denied entrance to a notorious refugee camp by a local Sudanese army chief.

"The risk is high," he said. "It is not imminent, but if things deteriorate, people may not want to maintain their efforts."

Es Sallam, which harbors 45,000 refugees, is one of three vast camps around the North Darfur capital that is reaching saturation point. Aid workers said they were negotiating space for a fourth camp, but that scarce water was making it difficult to find a suitable location.

Holmes said people in the Es Sallam camp were not starving and health conditions seemed decent.

"This shows the enormous humanitarian effort that has been made for three years," he said.

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