KHARTOUM - The newly appointed UN expert on human rights in Sudan said on Thursday that Khartoum prevented him from visiting Darfur during a five-day trip to Sudan, despite his request to do so.
Mashood Adebayo Baderin, speaking to the press in Khartoum at the end of his first visit since being appointed in March, said he was unable to go to the war-torn region because the authorities failed to grant him a travel permit.
"We requested that we wanted to visit Khartoum and Darfur, but the time limit I was informed was short to make the arrangements," Baderin said.
His spokesman said the request had been made at least two weeks before the trip was to start.
"In spite of the assurances from the government that the human rights situation in Darfur is relatively improved, I have received contrary representations from other stakeholders," Baderin added.
Violence in Darfur is much lower than at the height of the conflict in 2003 and 2004, but a lack of security prevails across the region, with kidnappings, banditry and clashes between government troops and rebels still common.
The UN estimates that at least 300,000 people have died as a result of the Darfur conflict, which began in 2003 when rebel groups from non-Arab tribes in the western region rose up against Khartoum.
The Sudanese government responded by unleashing state-backed Janjaweed militiamen in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide.
Baderin also highlighted concerns about press freedom in Sudan.
He said people had raised the issue with him, "with particular reference being made to the use of national security laws to clamp down on the press, including closure of media houses, arrest of journalists and confiscation of newspapers."
He declined to comment on the human rights situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, saying he did not make any request to visit the embattled southern border states for security reasons.
The fighting that erupted there last year between ethnic insurgents and the government has either forced from their homes or severely affected an estimated 500,000 people, and led to claims of serious human rights abuses.
Sudan imposes tight restrictions on foreigners wanting to visit Darfur, but they are currently barred from travelling to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, except on short, government-organised trips.
Baderin said he would present his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in September.