Swiss reach out to victims of Sudanese conflict

The donor talks are aiming to plug a gap of at least $150 million Keystone

The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has pledged SFr10 million in humanitarian assistance for Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region.

This content was published on June 3, 2004 - 16:30

At a United Nations conference in Geneva on Thursday, Calmy-Rey called on the international community to do more to help the victims of the conflict.

"Today, the situation in Darfur is considered one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world," Calmy-Rey said in her opening speech before representatives of various aid agencies and donor states.

"This crisis requires an urgent and substantial humanitarian response," she added.

Thursday's talks were called by the UN emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who has accused government-backed Arab militias of carrying out ethnic cleansing against black Africans in the western Darfur region.

The UN warned in May that some two million people in Darfur were in dire need of food and other aid. Fighting has driven more than one million people from their homes and forced another 130,000 to flee to neighbouring Chad.

Peace broker

In 2002, Switzerland played a key role in brokering a peace deal between the Muslim-led government in the north and rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) from the Christian south.

United States and Norwegian negotiators were also involved in mediating the truce, which is expected to lead to the signing of a final power and resource-sharing agreement in August.

A successful agreement would bring an end to Africa’s longest running civil war, which has lasted 21 years.

But despite encouraging steps towards peace in southern Sudan, the separate conflict in the western region of Darfur has continued to rage since early 2003.

“This crisis has substantially escalated over the past 16 months and we are facing a financing gap of at least $150 million,” said Hansjürg Ambühl, of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Forgotten crisis

“It was a forgotten crisis that, until recently, did not receive enough attention from the international community or media,” he added.

Aid agencies have long complained that the Sudanese government has barred access to the region, although the SDC has confirmed that the authorities have eased restrictions.

“Much of the red tape has been lifted but this remains a dramatic situation,” Ambühl said.

Fighting in Darfur broke out a year ago, when rebels demanded more autonomy and aid from the state.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

Civil war broke out in Sudan in 1983, between the Muslim-backed government in the north and the SPLA rebels in the Christian south, killing at least two million people.

With the help of Swiss mediators, a ceasefire was signed in Lucerne in January 2002 and a final power-sharing agreement is expected to be signed in August.

But despite steps towards peace in the south, fighting between rebel groups and government forces has raged in the western region of Darfur since early 2003.

It’s estimated that thousands of people have been killed in the fighting, while around a million have been made homeless.

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