ME and Ophelia

Saturday, June 12, 2004

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Witnessed crisis first hand - and spoke with Kofi Annan

In the race against time to save Darfur the Scotsman reports today that Hilary Benn MP met this week with the Sudan government and reiterated "the urgent need to rein in the Janjaweed, condemn the acts of violence and provide adequate protection for people: equally, rebel groups must observe the ceasefire."

The report also quoted Mr Benn, UK Secretary of State for International Development, as saying the following:

"The government assured me that they will speed up the registration of new aid agencies, from the up to nine months it can take now, to giving a clear answer within ten days. The government also recognised the need to grant visas quickly and relax travel restrictions on aid personnel and speed up the clearance of relief goods."

"This week, I witnessed first hand the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Darfur. I saw the devastating impact of the conflict on men, women and children already living in desperate poverty. This is the most serious humanitarian emergency in the world today."

"The United Nations estimates that more than a million people have had to flee their homes and a further 130,000 refugees have fled the country. I visited camps that are housing tens of thousands of people facing a precarious existence."

"The attacks on villages are still going on - one woman who had just arrived at the camp we visited in Southern Darfur told me her village had been attacked two weeks ago. A woman from another area had walked for three months from her home to get to the camp."

"I have spoken to Kofi Annan personally since arriving back from my visit and he is committed to doing more through the UN. In the end this is a crisis that must have a political solution. Important steps have been taken towards a comprehensive agreement to end the North/South conflict in Sudan - the scene of Africa’s longest running civil war - and this can also offer a way forward for areas such as Darfur."

"The resolution of this crisis requires a political solution so we are urging all parties to engage in discussions to find a peaceful way forward. As well as diplomatic pressure, the UK has helped to fund the 120 Africa Union ceasefire monitors who will deploy as quickly as possible. The UK will also provide one of the six requested monitors from the EU. In addition, we are funding UN human rights monitors. But we are in a race against time in Darfur. We must help people now. We need more humanitarian capacity on the ground."

"The UK has been supporting the people of Darfur since the autumn of last year. This week I announced a further £15 million, bringing the UK’s total contribution to £36.5 million." "Other countries must now also play their part. The UK, US and EC have so far provided three-quarters of the international response and there is an urgent need to do more."
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Note: First hand accounts in the Scotsman's recent report Sudan: the persecution of a people. Extract: "We came here because there was peace here and they could not find us here in Chad," she says. "We are doing what the white people [the aid workers] are telling us to do. If the white people tell us to stay here for 100 years, we are ready to do it because the white people give us peace and food and in Sudan there is a war."

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 6/12/2004
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