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Darfur relief under pressure from cuts

AID AGENCIES say that they are having to scale back their programmes in Darfur, Sudan, because of reduced support from institutional funders.

The needs of people affected by the tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake, and Hurricanes Rita and Katrina have tended to eclipse the suffering in Darfur, said Anne Masterson, director of the operation by ACT and Caritas in Darfur.

USAID has cut its $440-million programme by 60 per cent, and the EU has reduced its budget by 22 per cent, from e54 to e42 million. "We are looking at around a 25-per-cent cut in funding - even if we reach our 2006 appeal target of $15 million for next year," said Ms Masterson.

"Our donors - mainly Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox relief agencies - have a record of commitment. We will need this network's support to help us run our reshaped and streamlined operation next year."

A peace deal signed a year ago in Sudan ended 21 years of fighting in the south of the country - a conflict that has killed an estimated 70,000 people, and displaced a further two million. The interim agreement was signed in July 2005. But fighting has continued in Darfur: there was a new outbreak in recent weeks near Zallengei. More than 1000 people have been forced to flee, 60 are reported killed, and scores are reported injured.

The effect of the cutbacks was leading to the streamlining and even withdrawal of programmes, said the Roman Catholic agency CAFOD. It reports that a special centre feeding severely malnourished children at Nyala hospital is now at risk after being handed back to the government by an aid agency. The government has said that it will be difficult to keep the centre open unless there is outside help.

Christian Aid's emergency manager for Sudan and Uganda returned before Christmas from a visit to Malakal in the Upper Nile region of Sudan. Reporting as "very precarious" the living conditions of people displaced by the conflict, he described the region as "dominated by a culture of war". Displaced people returning from northern Sudan were putting further demands on the town, he said.

Meanwhile, Sudanese people in the United States have condemned the murder of refugees in Cairo. Egyptian security forces are reported to have killed 50 southern Sudanese refugees who had been camping out on the UNHCR compound in an attempt to draw the UN's attention to their plight. The Sudanese in the United States are demanding that the Egyptian government and the UNHCR stop plans for the forced deportation of refugees back to Sudan.

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