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Deaths in Darfur could reach 300,000, US official says

GENEVA--The death toll in Sudan's conflict-ravaged Darfur region could rise sixfold by the end of the year--hitting 300,000--because of worsening food shortages among refugees, a senior US aid official said yesterday.

The conflict already has killed at least 50,000 people and displaced 1.4 million villagers from their homes. More than 200,000 have crossed to neighboring Chad, where tensions have risen because of scarce resources for refugees, who are in temporary camps.

''The crisis in Darfur has not yet peaked," said William J. Garvelink, deputy assistant administrator of the US Agency for International Development. ''We have not yet seen the worst."

Earlier this year, USAID predicted that 80,000 to 300,000 people could die if the situation failed to improve. ''We're now coming to the high side of that range," Garvelink told reporters.

The United Nations and aid groups have dubbed Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Sudan's Arab-dominated government is accused of mobilizing an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed for attacks on Darfur's non-Arab villagers in retaliation for uprisings launched by two rebel movements in February 2003.

The government has denied the claims, although it acknowledges there is a ''tribal conflict" in the western region.

The UN Security Council is investigating allegations leveled by the United States and some humanitarian groups that the government and the Janjaweed are guilty of genocide. Sudan also faces the threat of UN sanctions.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Sudanese government and rebels yesterday to end a 21-year civil war in southern Sudan, saying a peace accord could spur an end to the Darfur crisis.

In a report to the Security Council, Annan said the decision of the government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement to resume negotiations on Thursday ''restores much of the optimism that has been dissipating in recent months."

''I urge the parties to seize the opportunity . . . and use it to ensure that a comprehensive and lasting peace can take hold throughout Sudan," Annan said.

Annan also urged international donors to provide desperately needed funds.

The United States provided nearly $62 million to help some 185,000 refugees who fled into neighboring Chad from Darfur, the State Department reported yesterday.

After months of relying on scarce food handouts--when aid agencies have been able to reach refugee settlements--more than a million people in Darfur face severe malnutrition, Garvelink told reporters.

The harvest will provide temporary respite, but will only be a ''blip" because many farmers have been unable to cultivate their fields, he said.

''We're going to see a tipping point in December, January or February," said Garvelink, who was in Geneva for a meeting of the UN refugee agency.

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