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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 12:24 GMT
Severe fighting in western Sudan
By Andrew Harding
BBC, Khartoum

Sudanese refugees  (Pic: Dieter Telemans, MSF)
The war in Sudan has created a huge refugee problem
The international community should pay more attention to continued clashes in western Sudan, the head of the United Nations refugee agency has said.

Diplomats have described the fighting in Darfur as "ethnic cleansing" with Arab militias, possibly backed by the government, destroying entire villages.

UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers says some 500,000 people have fled their homes.

The chaos there is in contrast to the situation in the south, where an end to 20 years of civil war is now in sight.

"There is severe fighting there. There are people driven out of their houses," Mr Lubbers said.

"It is a very dramatic problem and to be frank even the international community is not sufficiently aware."

Mr Lubbers urged the Sudanese authorities to grant full access to humanitarian organisations.

Refugees

Mr Lubbers is busy trying to prepare for the potential return of several million displaced people.

It will be, he acknowledged, a huge task which will strain the region's shattered infrastructure. "The level of poverty and destruction in the south is very intense so even here we have a responsibility, sometimes to inform people maybe it is too early to go home," he said.

Mr Lubbers met the leader of southern rebels John Garang to discuss logistics.

The UNHCR's next mission is in getting thousands of Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan to go back to their homes.





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