Concern continued to mount this week over increased displacement and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Darfur, western Sudan, with calls for the international community to intervene in order to avert a humanitarian crisis in the region.
The UN warned that the situation in Darfur may emerge as the worst humanitarian crisis in Sudan since 1998, owing to rising displacement and declining access to the area because of insecurity.
In a statement, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that insecurity had continued to cause displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and had hampered relief operations. "Humanitarian access is in some cases nonexistent, and there are few aid workers in the area," the statement said.
OCHA said despite ceasefire agreements between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) - the rebel movement operating in the region - humanitarian access was also uneven due to travel permit restrictions.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, said a humanitarian clause should be added to the currently negotiated ceasefire, allowing for unimpeded access to all vulnerable populations and for the protection of vulnerable civilians and humanitarian personnel.
And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, who this week visited Sudan in preparation for the possible return of thousands of Sudanese refugees from neighbouring countries, also expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Darfur. He urged the authorities to grant full access to humanitarian organisations.
Lubbers told reporters in Sudan it was a "tragedy" that a country that was making peace was at the same time producing refugees.
Contacted by IRIN for comment on the situation in Darfur, Sudan's Humanitarian Commissioner Sulaf El Din Salih said he could not discuss "such sensitive matters" over the phone.
However, a local daily newspaper in Khartoum on Thursday said the commissioner had criticised the OCHA statement, accusing the UN of failing to address its concern over Darfur through the "official channels".
"The measure taken by the organisation was inappropriate and we advise the UN to focus on its field work instead of press statements," 'Al-Adwa' newspaper quoted him as saying.
Abdulaziz Yahya, a political director of the SLM/A, told IRIN that no humanitarian assistance had so far reached the displaced people of Darfur, and he accused the government of restricting access to the area.
"Now it is a very bad situation. No humanitarian support has arrived here. Our people are suffering more and more," Yahya said.
"We call on international organisations and the UN to come and see the suffering of our people," he stressed.
He added that militias, known as Janjaweed, which were looting property and pushing civilians off their land, had attacked 49 villages in northern and western Darfur over the past two weeks.
Muhammad Ahmad Dirdeiry, Sudan's deputy ambassador in Nairobi, told IRIN that he did not have "much information" on the situation in Darfur and could therefore not comment on the issue.
Since March this year, over half a million people have been displaced in Darfur, in addition to 70,000 who have fled to neighbouring Chad, according to OCHA.
On 4 November, the Sudan government and SLM/A extended a ceasefire agreement for one month at a signing ceremony in the Chadian town of Abeche. [See IRIN story: Gov't, Darfur rebels extend ceasefire for one month