U.N. food agency to increase rations for Darfur refugees

A U.N. food agency said Monday it will increase rations for about three million refugees in Sudan 's war-ravaged Darfur region after it was recently forced to slash daily handouts by half because of a lack of funds. Donations of money and cereal from the United States , Canada , the EU and Sudan 's government will allow the World Food Program to increase daily rations in Darfur to 1,770 calories a person, an amount still short of the 2,100 calories that is considered the daily minimum requirement, the Rome-based agency said in a statement.

Earlier this month, WFP reduced the ration to 1,050 calories a person, trying to stretch its food stocks through the region's rainy season from July to September, when needs are greatest before the next harvest. Full rations could be restored by October, depending on the contributions, the statement said. Until May, donor countries had provided less then half of the US$600 million (470 million) that the agency says it needs for the whole of Sudan .

About 180,000 people have been killed and 3 million driven from their homes by fighting in Darfur since February 2003, when rebels from black farming villages took up arms against what they consider discrimination and oppression by the Arab-dominated government.

Sudanese government leaders allegedly encouraged militiamen from nomadic Arab tribes to wage a devastating counterinsurgency, committing widespread rape, arson and murder against civilians in the villages. Getting the food to Darfur safely has proven to be a challenge, with armed militias regularly hijacking NGO cars and often robbing or kidnapping staff.

Khartoum has pledged to crack down on militias suspected in most of these attacks, and the U.N. mission to Sudan warned earlier this month that humanitarian agencies should update their evacuation plans. The African Union, which runs a 7,300-strong peacekeeping mission in the vast, arid region, said one of its patrols had been ambushed near the Masteri refugee camp in west Darfur on Saturday. Some 50 unidentified militia attacked the peacekeepers, killing a Nigerian soldier and seriously wounding another soldier, African Union spokesman Moussa Hamani said.

"Ambushes aren't constant, but there are so many warring faction that violence is always a threat to operations," Hamani said in a telephone interview from the north Darfur town of El Fasher . A May 5 peace deal has been broken repeatedly, but the U.N. mission in Sudan said in a statement that the agreement's Sudanese negotiator, Majzoub Khalifa, met with Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi on Monday to discuss the creation of a commission to supervise the treaty's implementation. Libya , which helped broker the peace deal, would sit on the commission with Khartoum and chief Darfur rebel Minni Minnawi, the U.N. said, reports the AP.

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