Urgent Sudan aid access needed
Geneva - The deputy UN rights chief called on Wednesday for urgent aid access to Sudan, saying that getting relief into the strife-torn region along with the protection of civilians were the UN's key priorities.
"This moment is particularly critical," said Kang Kyung-Wah, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, after her week-long visit to Sudan just ahead of southern independence on July 9.
"Our top priority in Sudan today remains the protection of civilians in the conflict and access for humanitarian agencies," she added.
She said that the international community must "lend its weight to prevent the violence from extending", noting that 1 400 people have been killed in southern Sudan since the beginning of the year.
Violence has intensified in the disputed Sudanese border territory of Abyei, ahead of southern Sudan's split from the north.
On Monday, the UN Security Council ordered a 4 200 strong Ethiopian peacekeeping force to the region in a bid to douse tensions.
Kang expressed hopes that the peacekeepers would help to calm the situation.
"If the fighting does not end, a new war could erupt," she warned.
"I hope that this would not be the case and the agreement... to stabilise the situation in South Kordofan and Abyei give us hope," she said, referring to a deal between the Sudanese government and the northern branch of the ex-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) to resolve their differences in the embattled border state of South Kordofan.
Kang highlighted her concerns for the humanitarian situation in the south, noting that 7 000 displaced people had returned to South Kordofan's capital Kadugli, under the pressure of authorities.
She also deplored the absence of progress in Darfur, where 70 000 people were displaced in recent weeks.
"Visas for humanitarian workers are taking too long to obtain. Access is limited for security reasons and there is a shortage of hundreds of aid workers to respond to needs," she added.
At least 300 000 people have been killed and 1.9 million people forced to flee their homes in Darfur since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003, according to the UN.