Sudan Darfur donor conference hosted by Qatar

Sudanese woman pushing jerry cans of water in a camp for displaced people, Darfur, March 2013 As many as two million people have been unable to return to their homes in Darfur

The Gulf state of Qatar is hosting a two-day conference on development and reconstruction in Sudan's Darfur region.

The conference is seeking some $7.2bn (£4.7bn) in development aid aimed at making Darfur more self-dependent.

Ahead of the meeting, the UK announced it would contribute at least £33m.

Some 300,000 people are thought to have died during a decade of conflict in Darfur, according to UN estimates. As many as 1.4 million remain homeless.

Sceptics say efforts to bring peace to Darfur are flawed, pointing to continued instability and division.

Demonstrations against the Qatar conference took place across Darfur on Friday, AFP news agency reported.

Activists said the protests were called because the lack of security made reconstruction efforts premature.

They also say they oppose a 2011 peace deal which was signed in Qatar but rejected by major rebel groups.

'Never ideal'

But a draft development strategy released ahead of the Qatar conference said delays would only make recovery harder.

"There will likely never be a time when an ideal set of conditions for recovery is apparent in Darfur," it says.

The conflict in Darfur began in 2003 when rebels began attacking government targets, accusing Khartoum of oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs.

The mainly Arab Janjaweed militia was accused of carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Darfur's black African population in response.

Though violence in Darfur has come down from its peak, there are still clashes between government forces, rebels, bandits and rival ethnic groups.

Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and genocide in Darfur.

The UK's three-year aid package is designed to assist communities to grow their own food and improve their chances of finding work.

"Our aid will help the poorest to get the help they need to stand on their own and make them better able to cope when crises occur," international development minister Lynne Featherstone said in a statement.

"The government of Sudan also needs to do their part," she added. "Aid workers must have free, fair and safe access they need to do their job and the people of Darfur need peace so that they can rebuild their lives."

The British aid package, totalling £67m, includes assistance for Blue Nile and South Kordofan, two other Sudanese regions affected by conflict.

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