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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK
Sudan opens Darfur to aid workers
Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad
About a million people have fled the fighting in Darfur
Sudan has said it will scrap the need for aid workers to have special permits to enter the troubled Darfur region in the west of the country.

It said embassies would issue standard visas to aid workers within 48 hours.

Announcing the change, Foreign Minister Mostafa Othman Ismail called on African countries to send peacekeepers to Darfur as soon as possible.

Thousands of people have died in fighting between the government and rebels in the region.

An international commission set up by the African Union is due to hold its first meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, this weekend to discuss implementing a ceasefire signed in April.

'Ethnic cleansing'

Some one million people have fled Darfur, where pro-government militias are accused of "ethnic cleansing".

Aid workers have complained that they were being denied passes to enter the troubled region

Earlier this week, the US accused Sudan of deliberately preventing American relief workers from visiting Darfur.

"There are people suffering in Darfur. It's urgent that humanitarian workers be allowed to go there," said deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.

Last week, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the lives of tens of thousands of people in Darfur were at risk from hunger and disease.

The charity criticised the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), for being "painfully slow" in providing relief.

The UNHCR in turn says it has not received the money it has asked for from international donors.

Some 130,000 people have fled to neighbouring Chad, while an estimated 900,000, mostly black Africans, are displaced within Sudan.

They say the Arab "Janjaweed" militia are chasing them from their homes and are working with government forces.

The UN has accused Sudan of tolerating "ethnic cleansing" in Darfur, a charge the government in Khartoum denies.

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