updated 4/17/2008 5:34:25 PM ET 2008-04-17T21:34:25

The U.N. World Food Program said Thursday that it will cut food rations by half for up to 3 million people in Darfur starting next month because attacks on its trucks have reduced stocks.

The agency said 60 WFP-contracted trucks have been hijacked in the western Sudanese region since the start of the year, with 39 still missing and 26 drivers unaccounted for. One driver was killed in Darfur last month, it added.

"Attacks on the WFP food pipeline are an attack on the most vulnerable people in Darfur," the program's executive director, Josette Sheeran, said. "With up to three million people depending on us for their survival in the upcoming rainy season, keeping WFP's supply line open is a matter of life and death."

"We call on all parties to protect the access to food."

More than 200,000 people have been killed in the ethnic conflict and more than 2 million displaced from their homes, according to the U.N. Fighting has raged since 2003 when ethnic African tribesman took up arms, complaining of decades of neglect and discrimination by the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum.

Deliveries down to less than half
The government has been accused of unleashing a militia of Arab nomads to commit atrocities against Darfur's ethnic African communities in the fight with rebel groups.

The U.N. program said trucks should be delivering nearly 2,000 tons of food daily to Darfur this time of year to supply warehouses ahead of the rainy season which begins next month. But deliveries have dropped to less than half.

"The government of Sudan provides police escorts for convoys on the main routes, but unfortunately the frequency is not enough to maintain the food pipeline," said Kenro Oshidari, the program's representative in Sudan.

He appealed to rebel factions in Darfur to ensure security on the roads and respect the neutrality of people involved in the humanitarian effort.

"If the security situation on the roads improves, we will be able to restore the ration levels."

A joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force was launched in January to try to stem the violence in Darfur. But the group so far only has about 9,000 troops and police on the ground out of the 26,000 that have been authorized.

Western officials have blamed the Sudanese government for delaying the rollout of the force, an accusation Khartoum denies.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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