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UN envoy, Britain fault Sudanese rebels

Food program in Darfur halted

CAIRO -- A UN envoy and Britain blamed Sudanese rebels for renewed fighting in the crisis-ridden state of Darfur, and the World Food Program pulled its staff from the region yesterday because of the lack of security.

Britain called for an end to the fighting, and an international commission, including the United States, said it would take measures to keep humanitarian aid flowing. Jan Pronk, the UN envoy, called for a doubling of peacekeepers in Darfur.

The fighting erupted last week between the Sudan Liberation Army, or SLA, and the progovernment Janjaweed militia, apparently after a tribal dispute over livestock.

The World Food Program said the battle in northern Darfur has forced it to suspend deliveries of food to about 300,000 displaced people in camps in that part of western Sudan. On Monday, African Union troops rescued 45 humanitarian aid workers trapped in the conflict zone.

Pronk said people in those camps would have ''on average" food stocks to last two weeks.

In a rare instance of the United Nations squarely blaming one party to a conflict in which it played a humanitarian role, Pronk said the SLA was solely responsible for breaching cease-fire agreements, including one negotiated earlier this month in Abuja, Nigeria.

''This was a unilateral violation of the agreements by SLA, not by the government," Pronk said at a news conference in Cairo.

The SLA has rejected responsibility for the renewed fighting in northern Darfur, telling the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera earlier yesterday that it was responding to attacks by the state air force and progovernment militia.

But an international commission monitoring the cease-fire in Sudan's western Darfur region condemned clashes that killed 25 people, including police, a medical worker, and two civilians.

The commission, which was established in April, includes representatives from Sudan's government, the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, and the Justice and Equality Movement as well as France, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States.

''We have information related to violations of the cease-fire. We condemn this new development, and we will take all necessary measures to preserve" the cease-fire and humanitarian assistance agreements, said General Mahamat Abdallah Nassour of Chad, who chairs the commission. Nassour, who spoke during a break from the commission's monthly meeting in the Chadian capital, N'djamena, did not say what measures the panel would take.

Britain also condemned recent attacks by the SLA on the town of Tawilla in northern Darfur and the Kalma refugee camp in southern Darfur. He said the violence breached the Nov. 9 cease-fire singed in Nigeria.

''Retaliatory attacks by the government of Sudan are equally unacceptable," said Chris Mullin, Britain's minister for Africa. ''Both the government of Sudan and the SLA must stop all fighting immediately and abide by the terms of the security and humanitarian protocols that they agreed in Abuja for the benefit of the people of Darfur who have already suffered so much."

Pronk, who had flown to Cairo for talks with the Egyptian government and the Arab League, called for a doubling of the peacekeeping force assigned to Darfur and the pressuring of the Sudanese government and the southern rebels -- the Sudan People's Liberation Army -- to meet their Dec. 31 deadline for a permanent settlement to the rebellion in southern Sudan -- a separate conflict from that in Darfur.

The African Union force of cease-fire monitors and troops in Darfur is being increased to about 4,000 personnel.

Pronk declined to give a number for what he thinks the situation requires, but he called for a force large enough to provide protection.

''You cannot do that with 4,000 [troops]. I would argue: 'Let's try twice as many. The problem is twice as big as many people think,' " he said.

The latest estimate for Darfur's displaced people is 1.8 million.

The Darfur conflict, which the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, began in February 2003 when the SLA and allied Justice and Equality Movement took up arms against what they saw as years of state neglect and discrimination against Sudanese of African origin.

The government responded with a counterinsurgency campaign in which the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, has committed wide-scale abuses against the African population.

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