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Last Updated: Friday, 16 July, 2004, 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK
Libya to open Darfur aid corridor
Darfur refugee in Chad
This woman cried with relief when she reached safety in Chad
Libya has agreed to open a new aid corridor across the Sahara Desert to speed up the delivery of supplies to refugees from Sudan's Darfur region.

Under the agreement with the World Food Programme (WFP), the first convoy will make the 3,000km-journey next month.

The first shipment of wheat flour is expected to arrive in the Libyan port of Benghazi in early August.

It will then be taken to Chad, across the border from Darfur, where refugees live in desperate conditions.

"This Libyan initiative aims to aid Africans and establish peace and security in Africa," Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Sabala said, the AFP news agency reported.

Some 170,000 refugees from Sudan have sought safety in neighbouring Chad, and many are camped along a 600km stretch of the border.

Humanitarian crisis

Talks aimed at ending the fighting in Darfur between the pro-government Arab militia and rebels are expected to continue on Friday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

The discussions, which are under the auspices of the African Union, have brought together representatives of the Sudanese government and rebel groups fighting against the Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed.

But one of the groups, the Justice and Equality Movement, has said that it will not negotiate on any issues of substance because attacks on non-Arabs in Darfur are continuing.

The conflict has been described by the UN as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"The Libyan corridor provides a vital link to the refugees and internally displaced population which allows us to dramatically increase the amount of food aid we can deliver," said John Powell, a senior WFP official, said after signing the agreement in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

"It also has great potential for providing food more efficiently to cope with other emergencies in central Africa."

Until now, the Rome-based agency had to truck aid from Port Sudan, on the Red Sea, along roads which were often impassable or washed away by swollen rivers during the rainy season.

The opening of the new trans-Sahara corridor through Libya will enable year-round access to Darfur as well as reducing transport time.

The WFP is also appealing for more funds to buy food.

The first consignment to make the Sahara crossing comes from Switzerland.

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