U.N.: Darfur Conflict Worsening

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The United Nations says the conflict in Sudan's ravaged Darfur region is getting worse with no hope of some kind of political settlement.

For the past five years, the government-backed Janjaweed militia have raped and slaughtered entire villages at whim.

The U.N. now estimates at least 300,000 people have been killed in the fighting. However, other aid organizations say that number could go as high as 500,000.

The Sudanese government says those figures are "overblown."

Either way, the U.N. says the prospects for putting an end to the slow-motion genocide are grim. They say suffering in the region is on the rise. Tens of thousands of people have been uprooted from their homes and food rations for the needy are about to be cut in half.

"We continue to see the goalposts receding, to the point where peace in Darfur seems further away today than ever," said John Holmes, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

The U.N. also says deployment of new peacekeeping troops for the region has been delayed until 2009.

"We are late and we are trying to speed up the deployment of this mission, and we facing many obstacles," said the U.N.-AU force's envoy, Rodolphe Adada. "But eventually, with the help of some donors, we could be in a position to achieve maybe 80 percent of the force by the end of this year."

Of the authorized 26,000 soldiers and police officers, only about 9,000 have been deployed to the region.

The mission faces major problems in putting troops into a very hostile environment, Adada said. It still lacks five critical capabilities to become operational - attack helicopters, surveillance aircraft, transport helicopters, military engineers and logistical support.

Holmes said further progress in deploying the joint peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID, would help protect civilians and possibly humanitarian convoys.

"But only an end to all violence and concrete steps towards a political settlement will make the fundamental difference needed, as the rebel movements themselves above all need to recognize," Holmes said. "Otherwise the reality is that the people of Darfur face a continued steady deterioration of their conditions of life and their chances of lasting recovery."

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