More aid workers in Darfur, the troubled Sudanese region, have been killed in the past month than in the previous three years of conflict there, the UN said on Tuesday.
Eight aid workers, all of them Sudanese, were killed in July in attacks across Darfur, the UN said, compared with only six from 2003, when the conflict began, through June.
"The level of violence being faced by humanitarian workers in Darfur is unprecedented," Manuel Aranda da Silva, the top UN aid official in Sudan, said in a statement.
The violence has already contracted the scope of aid operations, depriving tens of thousands of people of food handouts, medical care and clean water. Beyond that, the deepening chaos imperils the effort to help millions of other displaced people in the region, officials of aid groups that work in the region say.
A UN map of no-go areas is covered with blotches of orange, indicating vast regions where aid workers cannot reach people trapped in camps and villages. About 14,000 workers are in Darfur, 1,000 of them foreigners.
The spike in violence has occurred as the peace agreement signed in May has faltered. The pact was supposed to end the fighting in a conflict between non-Arab rebel groups and the Arab-dominated central government, from which the rebel groups sought greater autonomy and more of Sudan's wealth for the long-neglected Darfur region.
But the landscape has grown more perilous since the pact was signed in Nigeria. On Monday, the rebel leader who signed it, Minni Arcu Minnawi, became the senior assistant to the president, as stipulated by the agreement, but amid allegations that his troops were carrying out bloody raids in North Darfur to try to punish other rebel groups that had not signed the agreement.
Minnawi met with US President George W. Bush at the White House on July 25, in the wake of a UN report released earlier in the month that said Minnawi's troops were "indiscriminately killing, raping women and abducting."
Elements of the two groups that did not sign, the Justice and Equality Movement and a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, have joined forces to form the National Redemption Front, which is firmly opposed to the agreement. The group said on Monday that it had shot down a government Antonov bomber, a statement the Sudanese military quickly denied. The latest fighting in North Darfur has routed 25,000 people from their homes.
The crowded camps in Darfur and eastern Chad, where 2.5 million people pushed from their homes in recent years by the conflict live, have become anxious and turbulent, making aid work in them especially dangerous.
"Since the signing of the agreement, Darfur has become increasingly tense and violent," Paul Smith-Lomas, regional director of Oxfam, an aid group with a large presence in Darfur, said in a press statement.
The declining security situation, he added, "has led to the deaths of too many civilians and aid workers."