updated 12/13/2004 2:50:53 PM ET 2004-12-13T19:50:53

The United Nations has suspended its humanitarian operations in Sudan’s troubled South Darfur area following a shooting that killed two aid workers, the agency said Monday.

The Sudanese employees of Save the Children — medical assistant Abhakar el Tayeb and mechanic Yacoub Abdelnabi Ahmed — were killed Sunday when their convoy came under fire in South Darfur, said the U.N. statement.

It did not say who fired on the convoy.

Two main rebel groups are fighting government troops in Darfur in a bid for more power and resources. The U.N. describes the conflict as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and international aid agencies have been struggling to feed and shelter almost 2 million people in need of aid.

Radhia Achouri, spokeswoman for the United Nations in Sudan, said the convoy was clearly marked as humanitarian.

“Our humanitarian operations in South Darfur are currently suspended whilst we review the situation. An African Union investigation is under way,” the statement said.

Save the Children UK, which works closely with the United Nations on humanitarian assistance in Darfur, operates a food center and medical clinics in the area.

“We deplore this brutal killing of humanitarian workers in Darfur. Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of our Sudanese colleagues,” Ken Caldwell, director of International Operations for Save the Children, said in the statement.

Deadly environment
In Brussels, European Union Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said Save the Children was doing “essential lifesaving work” in Darfur.

“This second fatal incident suffered by Save the Children in the past few months clearly shows the dangerous environment in which humanitarian organizations are working in this conflict,” he said.

In October, two Save the Children employees were killed by a land mine in North Darfur.

In Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday, Sudanese government and rebel negotiators met for the first time for talks on ending the crisis. Earlier talks produced an accord on humanitarian access to the displaced and pledges to end hostilities — promises that were immediately violated.

The African Union, which is mediating the talks, said 13 violations of a cease-fire agreement were confirmed in September and 54 were documented between October and mid-December.

Disease and famine have killed 70,000 in Darfur since March, the World Health Organization says. There is no official reckoning of the overall toll of the war, which was sparked in 2003 when two non-Arab African rebel groups took up arms to fight for more power and resources.

The Sudanese government responded by backing an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, which is accused of targeting civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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