Sudan pledges to end Darfur red tape

KHARTOUM Wed Mar 28, 2007 11:58am EDT

Internally displaced Sudanese women sit inside their make-shift house in their camp near El-Fasher, capital of the north Darfur region, March 25, 2007. Sudan, accused of hindering aid in war-ravaged Darfur, signed an agreement with the United Nations on Wednesday pledging to give humanitarian groups better access to the region. REUTERS/Michael Kamber

Internally displaced Sudanese women sit inside their make-shift house in their camp near El-Fasher, capital of the north Darfur region, March 25, 2007. Sudan, accused of hindering aid in war-ravaged Darfur, signed an agreement with the United Nations on Wednesday pledging to give humanitarian groups better access to the region.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Kamber

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan, accused of hindering aid in war-ravaged Darfur, signed an agreement with the United Nations on Wednesday pledging to give humanitarian groups better access to the region.

Under the deal, the Khartoum government would speed up visas for humanitarian workers and take other measures that the United Nations has been pressing for.

"New or outstanding applications for all required visas and permits will be granted until January 2008 and will be issued within 15 days of application," a joint statement said.

"All international NGO country directors and their families will be issued with multiple-entry visas. Exit and re-entry visas will be granted for all international NGO staff within two working days of the submission of application."

The Sudanese government reiterated it would adopt "fast track" measures to help aid groups with their work, a term it has been using since the first of such agreements was signed in 2004.

Sudanese Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ali Ahmed Karti, who signed the deal, vowed better cooperation but complained some members of NGO's were making false accusations over Darfur and said his government would not accept any who act "illegally".

Kati declined to say how Khartoum would react to "illegal" activities.

The agreement came a few days after the new United Nations humanitarian chief John Holmes took his first tour of Darfur and asked Sudanese officials to give aid groups greater access to victims of the conflict.

Experts estimate that 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million fled their homes since the conflict flared in 2003 when rebel groups took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglect. Khartoum says 9,000 people have died.

Holmes had said the world's biggest humanitarian operation in Darfur could collapse if the situation kept deteriorating.

Aside from bureaucratic obstacles, aid workers are also vulnerable to attacks by militias, other armed groups and bandits, instability that has forced many humanitarian groups to pull out of areas in dire need of assistance.

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