- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Trucks carrying food and equipment set out from the Sudanese capital for the violence-torn Darfur province yesterday, the start of a major aid push by the international Red Cross.

The effort is the International Committee of the Red Cross’ biggest operation in the world, said spokeswoman Julia Bassam. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and about 1.4 million people forced from their homes in the western region of Sudan.

As the first eight trucks left Khartoum yesterday, more trucks and other vehicles were flown in from Geneva. From now on, Miss Bassam said, convoys will be leaving from Red Cross warehouses every two days. Meanwhile, a giant cargo plane was making six trips from Geneva to ferry in nearly 800 tons of supplies and equipment, ranging from trucks to medicine.

The operation began as the Monday deadline approached for Sudan to comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding it improve the humanitarian and security situation in its western Darfur region, which the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Sudanese government denies charges it has backed ethnic Arab militias accused of horrific attacks on ethnic African civilians in Darfur and says it wants to work with the international community to restore calm there.

Miss Bassam said the Red Cross was struck by the ease with which it was able to get government cooperation for the aid flights and convoys. U.N. officials in recent days have offered similar assessments; aid agencies had complained that the government prevented them from getting aid to Darfur.

“There certainly has been a marked improvement over the last month,” Miss Bassam said. “It looks like the international pressure so far has brought about this change.”

Still, she said, if hurdles had been cleared earlier, the convoys might have been able to set out before the rainy season. Rains that began in July have filled valleys with water and turned desert tracks into muddy traps, particularly in West Darfur, one of the most inaccessible areas in the vast region.

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