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By UNDP Newsroom

23 August - The top United Nations humanitarian official today urged all parties to the conflict in the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur today to ensure that humanitarian workers are free of harassment and intimidation as they endeavour to help those in need.

In his last briefing to the Security Council as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes noted that the humanitarian situation in the area is steadily deteriorating this year due to resumed clashes between Government forces and rebels, as well as stepped up tribal fighting.

“The level of restrictions imposed on humanitarian operations, and of harassment, threats and violence directed at humanitarian personnel, is once again becoming unacceptable,” he stressed.

“All this render the civilians we are trying to help even more vulnerable.”

Mr. Holmes pointed to the recent politically-driven deadly violence over the Darfur peace process in Kalma camp, one of the largest sites sheltering people uprooted by fighting.

Thousands of Kalma's residents have had their lives disrupted, forcing many to flee, hampering the delivery of humanitarian services.

“This situation was further aggravated when local authorities denied NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and UN agencies access to the camp for 15 days after 1 August, amid suggestions that they wanted to get rid of the camp altogether,” the official said.

This move prevented a proper assessment of the humanitarian situation and prevented camp residents from receiving aid.

Six NGOs and UN agencies were allowed to deliver medicines and fuel to power water pumps in the camp on 16 August, shortly after intense dialogue between the world body and Sudanese authorities.

Of the 82,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kalma before the violence broke out, aid organizations and state authorities found that between 50,000 to 60,000 camp inhabitants remained, and they have also began drawing up an action plan to respond to gaps and to help the uprooted, wherever they may now be.

The current situation in the camp is reported to be calm, Mr. Holmes said, largely due to around-the-clock patrols carried out by the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission, known as UNAMID.

“This underscores the vital importance of UNAMID's mandate on the protection of the civilian population and of the close cooperation between the humanitarian community and the mission,” he said, adding that the situation is tense and fragile, with Government talk of moving IDPs out of Kalma and dismantling the camp ongoing.

UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York today that over the weekend, 13 houses for IDPs were burned to the ground in one area of Kalma. He added that the Humanitarian Aid Commission continues to grant access to NGOs to Kalma, but that some of the assistance is not getting through.

Further, he said that no new population movements have been reported either within or out of the camp.

Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, also called today for restrictions against aid workers to be lifted in Eastern Jebel Marra, where some 100,000 people have been affected by fighting between the Government and members of the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

“In this environment, it is important that we insist on strict adherence to basic humanitarian principles by all parties to the conflict,” he stressed.

“All concerned need to understand that humanitarian action is carried out by independent and neutral actors to alleviate human suffering, that assistance is provided impartially, based on humanitarian needs alone, and that the humanitarian community in Darfur is committed to upholding these principles in every aspect of its work.”

Following the meeting, the Council “condemned the instigation of violence in Kalma camp,” welcoming UNAMID's efforts to restore calm.

“The members of the Council stressed the need for a demilitarisation of this and other IDP camps in Darfur,” Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, which holds the body's rotating presidency this month, said in a statement to the press.

They spoke out against attacks against aid workers and UN personnel and Darfur, voicing concern over ongoing restrictions on aid workers.

“They recall the obligation of the Sudanese authorities and all other parties to ensure timely and unhindered humanitarian access,” as well as reiterating the importance of ensuring “an effective and inclusive process of political settlement in Darfur,” the statement continued.

UNAMID said today that after nearly five days, clashes between the Misseriya and Rezeghat tribes are reported to be continuing in the Kass region, some 90 kilometres northwest of Nyala, in South Darfur.

The Deputy Wali, or Governor, of South Darfur attempted to mediate between the groups over the weekend, and a UNAMID verification mission is under way to assess the situation, including the number of casualties.

Accra / Ghana/ Africa /