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South Darfur governor criticises UN relief chief over security

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December 1, 2007 (NYALA, Sudan) — South Darfur’s governor criticised U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes on Saturday for saying security had worsened in the region, and said aid workers could enter any area they wanted.

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UN humanitarian chief John Holmes meets with South Darfur governor Ali Mahmoud, right, in Nyala, South Darfur, Dec. 1, 2007 (AP)

After a "frank" meeting, the two men agreed greater confidence needed to be built between the world’s largest aid operation and local authorities.

"We have the opposite view of the U.N. envoy," Governor Ali Mahmoud told reporters. "The security situation is peaceful.

"(Holmes) arrived yesterday from Khartoum and there’s no way he can know in one day about the security situation."

International experts estimate some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million been driven from their homes in Darfur’s conflict which is entering its fifth year.

Non-governmental organisations (NGO) told Holmes of a series of serious incidents in the four months since a U.N. resolution was passed authorising 26,000 U.N.-AU peacekeepers to deploy to Darfur.

Five aid workers have been shot and wounded, 34 temporarily abducted or physically or sexually assaulted, three truck drivers contracted to transport aid killed and humanitarian compounds raided 18 times, the NGOS said in a statement seen by Reuters.

They told Holmes there were also 61 vehicle hijackings.

Mahmoud, appointed a few months ago, blamed the carjackings on United Nations officials.

"We have more than 3,000 cars in Nyala town — much more than the NGO cars but only their and U.N. cars are taken," he said. "The drivers which they appoint in these organisations are not professionals."

One worker for an international NGO was carjacked just outside Nyala, tied to a tree and beaten, aid sources said.

LIMITED ACCESS

A U.N. map showed about half of South Darfur had limited access for aid and large swathes were completely no-go.

Mahmoud said there were no security problems. "There is no problem about access. Anywhere the NGOs want to go and deliver food they can go," he said.

A U.N. official said the meeting was frank and the two men "agreed to disagree" on key issues like security, aid access and the expulsion last month of popular aid worker Wael Haj-Ibrahim.

Mahmoud said he would not allow Haj-Ibrahim back to South Darfur. "He should be expelled from the country," he said. Haj-Ibrahim is working in Khartoum.

Any aid worker exceeding their mandate would be expelled, he said. Eleven humanitarian workers have been expelled this year.

Holmes said one problem was the size of the aid operation of about 12,500 staff.

"There are also no doubt suspicions on both sides which don’t make things easier." He said he would be working on confidence-building in meetings with government officials.

Washington calls the violence in Darfur genocide. Khartoum rejects the term and puts the death toll at 9,000.

(Reuters)

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