- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

NEW YORK — The senior U.N. humanitarian official yesterday raised by half the estimated casualties in Darfur, saying that as many as 300,000 had been killed by warfare, disease and hunger.

John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council that the situation had worsened in the past four years, as the numbers of casualties and the displaced rose and as assaults on aid workers increased.

The new figure of 300,000 dead is not based on new surveys, Mr. Holmes said, but on “a reasonable extrapolation.”

In 2006, the United Nations estimated 200,000 casualties. That figure had not been increased for two years, despite the cyclical fighting of Sudanese government and rebel forces against an ever-splintering assortment of well-armed rebel groups.

“That figure must be higher now, perhaps half as much again,” the humanitarian chief said. “Yet we continue to see the goal posts receding, to the point where peace in Darfur seems farther away today than ever.”

A small percentage of these civilians are killed by the government’s aerial bombardments and village sweeps or indiscriminate crossfire between rebel groups. Far more succumb to disease, hunger or dehydration, according to relief groups.

Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem rejected the estimates, saying the death toll was no more than 10,000.

“Here we are not including those who died because of malnutrition and starvation. In Darfur, there is no epidemics, no starvation,” he told reporters.

Mr. Abdalhaleem said aid workers and others inflate the toll for their own benefit.

“For some groups, the saddest day will be when this is over because it creates jobs for them,” he said.

The Security Council held consultations yesterday on the Darfur peacekeeping force, one of two operating inside Sudan.

The United Nations and the African Union are trying to forge a full peacekeeping mission in Darfur but have been hamstrung by logistical obstacles and Khartoum’s roadblocks.

Only 9,000 soldiers have deployed in Darfur, out of an authorized troop strength of 19,500. The joint AU-U.N. special representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, said yesterday that the peacekeeping mission could operate at 80 percent capacity by the end of the year, nearly a year later than originally expected.

The scope of the misery in Darfur, an area of Sudan the size of France, and neighboring countries is beyond dispute.

About 3 million Darfuris have been driven from their homes, more than a quarter-million of them venturing into Chad and the Central African Republic, Mr. Holmes said yesterday. Most of the displaced are living in refugee camps in huts or tents.

Mr. Holmes said sexual violence and exploitation were on the rise, likely committed by both government troops and rebel guerrillas.

Attacks on relief workers have spiked, with rebel hijackings of trucks and convoys up 350 percent this year over last year. In the past four months, 42 humanitarian offices or camps have been attacked and six aid workers killed.

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