Official: U.S. Envoy Not Welcome in Darfur's Refugee Camp

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The U.S. special envoy to Sudan is not welcome in Darfur's refugee camps because he has downplayed the scope of the crisis there, a refugee representative said Friday.

Scott Gration, the U.S. envoy, began his fifth trip to Sudan Wednesday in the south and plans to visit the refugee camps in the western region of Darfur later to assess the humanitarian situation.

Abu Sharati, a representative of the refugees, however, said Gration is not welcome after he suggested the displaced should return home and the U.S. should ease its sanctions on Sudan.

"Gration came to Darfur, and saw the problems of the people of Darfur, the lack of security and food shortage, now he doesn't talk about that anymore," Abu Sharati told the Associated Press by telephone.

"He reported that the Sudanese government is not terrorist and the Darfur problem has eased," he said, adding that they wanted Gration to be replaced.

"We had a meeting and we will not allow him at all into the camps until he changes his position towards the displaced," he said.

Gration has said he never called for the forced return of the displaced living in camps back to their villages.

According to a letter issued by Gration ahead of his trip, he plans to visit Zamzam and Abou Shouk camps "to assess the current humanitarian and security situation," especially in light of Sudan's expulsion of several aid groups in March. There is no indication that these plans have changed.

Gration told a Senate hearing in July that there was no longer any evidence to support the U.S. designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism and recommended easing sanctions.

His comments were welcomed in Sudan, which has always maintained the death toll in Darfur was greatly exaggerated and said it was fighting a counterinsurgency, not a war.

But they irked activists and Darfur residents, who fear the U.S. is easing its pressure on Sudan's government.

The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum, claiming discrimination and neglect.

U.N. officials say the war has claimed at least 300,000 lives from violence, disease and displacement. They say some 2.7 million people were driven from their homes and at its height, in 2003-2005, it was called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.