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Last Updated: Monday, 26 July, 2004, 03:56 GMT 04:56 UK
UN fears over Darfur death toll
Refugee in Chad
About a million have been forced from their homes
The death toll in Sudan's Darfur conflict could be up to 50,000, far higher than previously thought, a senior UN official has warned.

UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said the outlook was "bleak" and "the deaths are increasing".

Aid workers have begun restoring food supplies to two refugee camps in Chad which they had previously left because of violence.

About a million people have fled their homes since conflict started last year.

Pro-government Arab militias - Janjaweed - are accused of ethnic cleansing and even genocide against the region's black African population.

The UN has described Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis and says food, water and medicines are running low in the refugee camps.

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On Sunday, the UK aid agency Oxfam sent a plane carrying 30 tons of water and sanitation equipment to Darfur, in the west of the country.

Meanwhile, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, under international pressure over the situation in Darfur, said he believed the crisis could be defused through "constructive dialogue".

He told reporters in Khartoum his government was willing to co-operate with the African Union and the international community to resolve the ethnic violence.

Death toll

Mr Egeland told news agency AFP: "Among the one million people (displaced) ... it could be by now anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000 deaths already. And these are preventable."

Refugee in Chad
The camps in Chad host 120,000 Sudanese refugees

"There is a false impression now that things are improving in Darfur because we, the humanitarian community, are able to deploy much stronger than before," he said.

Mr Egeland's spokeswoman told BBC News Online that the figures were estimates, given that the situation on the ground is unclear.

Aid workers returned to Chad's Farchana and Bredjing camps on Saturday and there have been no reports of violence.

Senior officials from the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, have issued a report which clears the Chadian military of any wrongdoing over the deaths of two refugees last Thursday.

A soldier had shot dead two refugees, one of whom was accused of leading violent disturbances.

Seventeen refugees accused of involvement in the disturbances have been arrested. Another two are said to have escaped. No firearms were found, although knives, swords and a military uniform were recovered.

At one stage the wife of a refugee leader and her three children were taken hostage and threatened with death, but they have since been released.

The BBC's Andrew Simmons, who has been to the camps, says whether the violence was politically motivated is uncertain, but Chadian authorities fear the involvement of Arab militia from Sudan.

Malnutrition

An estimated 180,000 refugees are sheltering in eastern Chad's camps - and an unknown number are still without any support.

Refugee in Chad
Children are dying from malnutrition in the camps

An estimated 43,000 refugees are being given sanctuary at Farchana and Bredjing camp. However, another 5,000 have yet to be registered, our correspondent says.

They are sheltering outside the camp in Bredjing and they have no food.

Our correspondent says the latest reports from a camp on the northern part of the Sudanese border speak of medical supplies running out.

A health-aid organisation there said four babies suffering from malnutrition have died in the last month.

Relief operations are entirely dependent on good weather, he says, and for the past four days the heavy rains have relented.

But the relief agencies warn that next month will see prolonged rains.

They are building new camps nearer to positions where aid is more likely to get through.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Richard Lister
"The UN calls this the worlds worst humanitarian crisis"



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