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Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Sunday, 10 May 2009 12:39 UK

UN aid chief sees hope in Darfur

By Andrew Harding
BBC News, Darfur

Women at a refugee camp in Al-Fashir
Many have sought refuge in camps around Al-Fashir

Two months after key international aid agencies were expelled from Sudan, the UN is cautiously optimistic about the humanitarian situation in Darfur.

Visiting the region, the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator said there was no hard evidence that more people had died because of the disrupted aid effort.

However, John Holmes said the situation remained fragile.

In March, 13 foreign aid agencies were expelled after Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, was indicted for war crimes.

No one is claiming that Darfur is on the mend.

As we arrived in the middle of a sandstorm at a makeshift camp outside the town of al-Fasher, a lorry packed with fleeing civilians drove in.

John Holmes in Khartoum, 7 May 2009
Most of the life-saving gaps have been met
John Holmes

The families onboard spoke of heavy fighting nearby in the past few days.

Some 40,000 people have sought refuge in the camp this year alone.

But John Holmes, the UN's senior humanitarian official, was keen to point out that, despite the recent expulsion of key international aid agencies, the humanitarian situation had not deteriorated as dramatically as many had feared.

The UN and the Sudanese government have filled many gaps.

Mr Holmes said there was "no hard evidence" that anyone had died because of the expulsion of aid agencies.

"I think most of the life-saving gaps have been met but of course some services have been reduced in some places so you can't exclude that there have been extra deaths. But we have no evidence of that at the moment," Mr Holmes told the BBC.

Unpredictable

The dramatic expulsion of 13 foreign aid agencies followed the announcement that Sudan's president was being indicted by the International Criminal Court.

The impact in Darfur has been serious.

But Mr Holmes said that recently there had been signs of much greater flexibility from the Sudanese authorities.

Privately, other UN officials went further, arguing that the operating environment had actually improved, and welcoming the fact that the Sudanese government was being forced to take more of a role in the relief effort.

Still, Darfur remains a dangerously unpredictable place - plagued by conflict, with no comprehensive peace deal in sight, and with a third of the population unable to go home.



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