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UN aid reaches Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur

The convoy carried food, medical supplies, shelter and other essential supplies for civilians
Since 2003, some 300,000 people have been killed in the fighting and 2.5 million people have been displaced in Darfur (AFP)

The first UN convoy carrying aid to civilians fleeing clashes in Sudan's Darfur has reached a peacekeeping base where up to 23,000 people have taken shelter, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Intense fighting erupted last month between insurgents and troops in Darfur's isolated Jebel Marra area, a stronghold of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdulwahid Nur, with tens of thousands of civilians thought to have fled.

"A 24-truck convoy with emergency aid arrived late yesterday in Sortoni, North Darfur where 23,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) - 90 percent of whom are women and children - are gathered after fleeing the recent violence in the Jebel Marra," Samantha Newport, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP.

The convoy carried food, medical supplies, shelter and other essential supplies for civilians at the Sortoni base, run by the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which deployed to the region in 2007.

"These people have walked miles or travelled by donkey or camel, some of them being forced to flee as soon as hostilities struck their village and so they did not have time to gather belongings or food," Newport said.

Until the convoy arrived, families who had been able to bring food were sharing it with those who had fled with no possessions, she said.

Since the clashes between government forces and SLA-AW rebels flared on 15 January, tens of thousands of civilians have fled the mountainous Jebel Marra, which straddles South, North and Central Darfur states.

"The United Nations is calling for immediate, safe and unfettered access to all people in need, wherever they may be located," Newport said.

On Wednesday, Sudan summoned the top US diplomat in Khartoum to protest Washington's sponsorship of a draft UN resolution over Darfur - extending sanctions that could target Sudan gold mining.

UN Security Council Resolution 1591, passed in 2005, imposed travel bans and asset freezes on parties involved in the conflict in the western Darfur region.

Also on Wednesday, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir replaced his chief of staff with a military general who played a central role in mediating negotiations with anti-government forces in Darfur.

Darfur spiralled into conflict in 2003 when mostly black, African insurgents rebelled against President Omar al-Bashir's Arab-dominated government, complaining they were being economically and politically marginalised.

Bashir mobilised ground troops and allied militia to try to crush the rebels, and was indicted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges related to the bloody campaign.

Some 300,000 people have been killed in the fighting and there are 2.5 million IDPs in Darfur, according to the UN.

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