By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations and Britain on Wednesday accused the Sudanese government of refusing to release food rations and other essential supplies for international peacekeepers in the conflict-torn Darfur region.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said he was planning to raise the issue of the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan's western Darfur region, known as UNAMID, during Wednesday's meeting of the U.N. Security Council on unrelated issues.
"We're very worried that the government of Sudan is preventing UNAMID from doing its job, specifically they are holding up crucial rations and other supplies in Port Sudan that are destined to go to the UNAMID troops," he told reporters on the way into the council chamber.
"They are not complying with their obligations to support UNAMID," he said.
If the supplies are not released quickly, he said, UNAMID would have to make alternative arrangements which would increase the monthly cost for delivering such supplies to UNAMID from some $3 million to around $13 million.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the holdup involved around 190 containers, mostly food rations but also a few containers with what he described as "operational supplies."
"It's important to note that the current food ration level in the mission area is of great concern to us," Dujarric said. "We obviously urge the government of Sudan to release the containers immediately."
He added that U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous was currently briefing the Security Council about the problem.
Rycroft said representatives of the Sudanese government have denied knowledge of the rations being withheld at Port Sudan.
A senior diplomat from Sudan's U.N. mission did not respond immediately to a request from Reuters for a comment.
Relations between Khartoum and UNAMID have never been good but have deteriorated in recent years. Late last year Khartoum ordered UNAMID out of Sudan after it began investigating an alleged mass rape by Sudanese soldiers in Darfur. The government denies any wrongdoing by either its army or allied militia.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination. The mass killings of a decade ago have eased, but the insurgency continues and Khartoum has sharply escalated attacks on rebel groups over the past year.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by David Gregorio)