updated 5/29/2005 10:44:24 PM ET 2005-05-30T02:44:24

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met Sunday with a former rebel leader who warned that U.N. food supplies to southern Sudan had run out, creating a humanitarian crisis as hundreds of thousands of refugees return to their homes following a January peace deal.

John Garang, chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, told Annan that more than a quarter-million refugees have returned to homes around this former rebel stronghold since the signing of the January peace agreement with the Sudanese government in Khartoum.

Garang, who was made a first vice president under the pact, said the war-ravaged region needs help feeding the returnees, who have not yet been able to go back to farming.

“The U.N. food pipeline is empty,” Garang told Annan.

Annan spent about five hours in southern Sudan in the last stop on his three-day tour of Sudan.

He was greeted at the airport here by hundreds of colorfully dressed locals who danced and shouted greetings to the secretary-general. Farmers presented a pair of white bulls to Annan and asked the U.N. leader to lay his hands on them in a good luck gesture.

Peace accord signed after years of war
January’s peace deal signed in Kenya cleared the way for the drafting of a new constitution and gave southern states the opportunity to vote on secession in six years. The SPLM also will take 30 percent of seats in a transitional national government.

The 21-year war pitted the Arab Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum against rebels fighting for greater autonomy and a larger share of the country’s wealth in the largely African animist and Christian south. Two million people are thought to have been killed in the war.

The Sudan News Agency quoted Annan as saying that his visit to Rumbeik was to show “backing for the peace process in the Sudan.”

Last month, the two sides began talks aimed at drafting a new constitution, which President Omar el-Bashir branded as the start of the most critical period in Sudan’s history.

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