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UN envoy calls for Ramadan calm in Darfur

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Sept 21, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — The U.N. envoy to Sudan on Thursday urged warring groups in Darfur to stop fighting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan to let relief workers operate in the region where conflict has displaced more than 2 million.

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Jan Pronk

"I am sending letters to the president and to all the seven movements ... asking them to respect a month of tranquillity during Ramadan," Jan Pronk said in reference to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Darfur rebel groups.

"Get off the collision course ... Don’t fight, don’t bomb, don’t change your positions," Pronk told reporters in Khartoum. The Islamic month of Ramadan begins with the new moon in the coming days.

An estimated 200,000 people have been killed since violence erupted in Darfur in 2003. Underfinanced African Union (AU) troops are struggling to enforce a much-violated 2004 ceasefire between government forces and rebel groups in the region.

In May, one rebel faction and the government signed a peace agreement but other rebel groups have refused to sign. Violence in the region has escalated since May and aid workers say their access has been cut signficantly.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said last month the situation in the region was going "from really bad to catastrophic".

Pronk said a halt to fighting would lead to "creating an atmosphere whereby you can start talking again rather than fighting again with each other." It would also allow U.N. agencies to reach those in need, he said.

The AU announced on Wednesday it would extend the stay of its forces in Darfur until the end of the year. Their mandate was set to expire on Sept. 30.

Sudan has said it will accept the extension of the AU mandate but has rejected any deployment by a U.N. force authorised by the Security Council last month. Khartoum’s consent is needed for a U.N. takeover.

Analysts have said Khartoum would see a temporary extension of the AU mandate as a victory in its efforts to stave off a U.N. deployment portrayed by Bashir as a new form of colonialism.

Several thousand Sudanese soldiers paraded to music through Khartoum on Wednesday in a show of force after the extension of the AU mandate, although a Sudanese army spokesman said the march had no political message.

(Reuters)

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