Since March 2003, the Darfur region in Sudan--the largest country in Africa--had seen clashes between Sudanese Government forces and rebel militias from the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and was also the site of vicious and deadly attacks against civilians by Arab militias linked with the Government. By September 2003, 65,000 Sudanese were fleeing to neighbouring Chad, according to the United Nations, while more than 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur needed urgent humanitarian aid. The United Nations appealed for an initial $23 million, even as peace overtures between the Government and rebel forces fell through due to suspicion and accusations.
Sudan has been under a civil war for more than two decades, when Darfur became the battleground for rebellion. Darfur--which in Arabic means home of the Fur people, one of the main ethnic groups in the region--has some 6 million people of African and Muslim Arab descent. The rebel groups accused the Arabdominated Government of discrimination against the ethnic Africans, who are also Muslims. When fighting erupted, Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed (Arabic for a man with a horse and a gun), started attacking and killing the black African population, while the Sudanese Government began a policy of restricting humanitarian workers from accessing the affected population.
"Denials of access are the greatest impediments to humanitarian efforts in the area", said Tom Eric Vraalsen, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan, when he visited the area in December 2003. Echoing him, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland said: "The humanitarian situation in Darfur has quickly become one of the worst in the world. Access to people in need is blocked by the parties in conflict and as the need for aid grows, stocks of relief materials are dwindling."
It was not until early 2004 that Sudanese President Omer Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir promised to provide access to aid workers, but by then more than 750,000 Sudanese were thought to be internally displaced and at least 110,000 others had fled across the border to Chad.
Mr. Egeland said the United Nations and non-governmental organization (NGO) staff had received almost daily credible reports about atrocities, including murders, rapes and looting, and the forced depopulation of entire areas. The reports from Darfur...