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U.N. relief chief: Darfur nearing abyss

UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Returning from a final mission to the Darfur region of Sudan, the United Nations' top relief official warns the area is "sliding into the abyss."

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland this week told the U.N. Security Council, "The Darfurians cannot wait another day. We need the attacks to stop now."

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About the conflict spreading to neighboring countries, Egeland said the total number of refugees in Chad now stands at 240,000 and the situation is "so bad in Eastern Chad that people are fleeing to Darfur."

Urging the international community to move from meetings and agreements to action on the ground, he said, "Our fear is that time is now lost in talks on the intricacies of the (African Union/United Nations) partnership rather than the immediate deployment of a more effective force with a more proactive mandate."

Speaking with reporters after the council meeting Wednesday, the U.N. relief chief said despite the larger number of deaths due to blunt violence in Iraq, "many more are dying from the effects of warfare (in Darfur)" than anywhere else, including Iraq.

"Governments have to make Sudan understand that the way it's going now, it's going towards the abyss; 4 million people are at stake," he said.

He said a top priority is now security in refugee camps in the Darfur region where, despite receiving food and shelter, civilians fear for their lives because no one is guarding them from militias and armed men.

Egeland also said the number of people impacted by the conflict has been growing steadily since he first visited the region in 2004. From one million people dependent on humanitarian assistance in 2004, for instance, the total number has now risen to 4 million, of which one million are not receiving any aid.

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