A top UN envoy is to hold talks with Sudanese leaders on progress made since Khartoum and the UN signed a joint communiqué under which Sudan's government pledged to improve security and facilitate access by aid workers to people affected by conflict in the western region of Darfur.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan dispatched his Special Representative to Sudan, Jan Pronk, to participate in the first meeting of the Joint Implementation Mechanism, which was set up on 3 July, UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said on Wednesday. Pronk was scheduled to travel to Khartoum on Thursday.
His visit comes against a background of continuing insecurity in Darfur, with UN humanitarian agencies reporting violent clashes between government forces and two rebel groups, as well as inter-ethnic fighting, UN News reported.
It said that in Southern Darfur, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had recently noted an increasing presence of Arab militias known as the Janjawid. Allied to the Sudanese government, the Janjawid stand accused of attacking indigenous African villagers, burning their homes and killing or raping many civilians.
Briefing reporters in New York, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland said his worst fear was that the insecurity would continue to worsen and possibly force aid agencies to withdraw staff for their own safety.
"Our trucks are looted, our humanitarian workers are threatened and attacked, and that's not necessarily only the fault of the government. There are many militias and other forces" in the region, he said.
Egeland said the Sudanese government had generally improved humanitarian access to Darfur by lifting obstacles, as it had promised to do in the communiqué signed after talks between Annan and senior government ministers.
In that declaration, Khartoum said it would lift humanitarian restrictions and also take measures to end the impunity with which people have perpetrated human rights abuses in Darfur. The UN said it would provide urgent aid relief and play its part in any peace efforts.
Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned that poor sanitation meant that tens of thousands of children across Darfur were at high risk of contracting cholera and other waterborne diseases.
More than half the estimated one million internally displaced persons in Darfur now had access to clean water, but UNICEF officials said the agency needed to step up the pace of latrine construction to avoid serious hygiene problems, especially since the rainy season had arrived.
In a related development, the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Africa, Mohamed Sahnoun, was scheduled to participate in a separate political dialogue on resolving the Darfur conflict in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday.