KHARTOUM, Sudan -- The United Nations yesterday protested what it said was a decision by Sudan to bar the UN's top humanitarian official from visiting the capital and the troubled western Darfur region.
Jan Egeland, UN undersecretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, said the government was trying to prevent him from seeing the deteriorating situation in the troubled Darfur region.
A statement from the UN mission in Sudan said Egeland's flight into Sudan was not given authorization to land Sunday, and that Sudanese officials had expressed opposition to his visit.
It quoted Sudan's representative to the United Nations in New York as saying Egeland would not be welcome in Darfur or the capital, Khartoum. Egeland's spokeswoman, Stephanie Bunker, said Sudan told him it could not guarantee his security and said he should delay his visit for up to two weeks.
Egeland had been scheduled to visit southern and western Sudan from Sunday to Thursday to assess relief operations. Instead, he went to southern Sudan, which has an autonomous government.
He gave up on his efforts to get to Darfur or Khartoum and planned to leave southern Sudan for Chad today, Bunker said.
The state-run Sudan Media Center said the government of West Darfur state prevented Egeland's visit because it feared public anger against him since he is from Norway, one of the countries where caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed were published, angering many Muslims.
It cited an unnamed West Darfur official as saying residents formed a human chain at the airport to protest the visit.
''They claim that my nationality is a problem because of the cartoons and me being a Norwegian. This is just an excuse," Egeland told The Associated Press by telephone. ''I can only believe that they don't want me to see how bad the situation has become for the civilian population in South Darfur, in West Darfur."
He noted that he had been barred from visiting Darfur in 2004 ''when ethnic cleansing was at its worst."
The United Nations has described Darfur as the site of the world's gravest humanitarian crisis. The three-year-old conflict setting the Arab-dominated government and militias against ethnic African tribes has left some 180,000 dead -- most from disease and hunger -- and displaced another 2 million from their homes. Sudan's government and rebels in Darfur have made little headway in peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria.
President Omar al-Bashir said in a speech to parliament yesterday that resolving the Darfur conflict was his nation's top priority.
''The peace that we have received with joy [in southern Sudan] remains incomplete until we achieve a solution in Darfur," he said.
He said the government would work to end the suffering of civilians and reach a political settlement that included all parties involved in the conflict.
Egeland said he was supposed to bring more resources to humanitarian workers who were finding it increasingly difficult to reach civilians affected by the violence.
He called the ban part of ''an endless string of constant administrative obstacles to our work," saying nongovernmental organizations trying to work in Darfur were finding it hard to receive work permits, fuel, and other necessities.
''My biggest worry is that all our achievements and advances -- in one of the biggest and most effective humanitarian operations anywhere in a war situation -- are now being undermined," Egeland said.