A Sudanese refugee woman carries food supplies at Abu Shouk, the largest camp in North Darfur for internally displaced people, outside El Fasher, the capital of Darfur, in Sudan, 21 March 2009 (Photo: AP)
Several countries made pledges Monday to finance development in Sudan's war-striken Darfur region at a donors' conference in the gas-rich Gulf state of Qatar, which itself offered $500 million.
Pledges so far total nearly $600 million, UN Resident Coordinator Ali Al-Za'tari told AFP by email. "These pledges cover more than the $177 million needed for urgent... projects."
On Monday, Doha's minister of state for cabinet affairs, Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Mahmud, said that "Qatar has pledged an amount of $500 million as grants and contributions for rebuilding Darfur."
In February 2010, Qatar had promised to establish a bank with a capital of one billion dollars to develop Darfur.
The European Union pledged 27 million euros and Germany promised 16 million euros in aid at the conference.
Britain had on Sunday offered at least 11 million pounds ($16.5 million, 13 million euros) for Darfur annually over the next three years to help communities to grow food and to boost skills for employment.
Darfur's neighbour, Chad, pledged one million dollars.
The latest pledges came on the second day of a meeting of representatives of donor countries and aid groups in Doha. The conference aims to endorse a strategy to rebuild Darfur, where the conflict has shocked the world with atrocities against civilians.
The meeting, which drew condemnation from rebel groups still fighting the regime, was agreed under a July 2011 peace deal which Khartoum signed in the Qatari capital with an alliance of rebel splinter groups.
It seeks support for the six-year, $7.2-billion (5.5-billion-euro) strategy to move Darfur away from food handouts and other emergency aid, and lay the foundations for lasting development through improved infrastructure.
"We do not need to raise the $7.2 billion today. What we need to raise is sufficient funds to start implementation and to build credibility of the process. And this we have already achieved at this stage," Za'tari said.
Ahead of the Doha gathering, displaced people demonstrated in several camps in Darfur, demanding that security take priority, with some saying they would not return to their villages until peace is restored.
Za'tari said opposition to the strategy is "understandable, mostly because of continuous access and security problems."
"Yet, we believe that the only way to turn the tide in Darfur is to move towards recovery and development," he said.
"Large parts of Darfur are ready for recovery and the population badly desires support to become independent from aid, to be able to take their destiny back into their own hands."
The meeting comes 10 years after rebels rose up in the western Sudanese region to seek an end to what they said was the domination of power and wealth by the country's Arab elite.
In response, government-backed Arab Janjaweed militia committed atrocities against civilians, prompting an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
While the worst of the violence has long passed, rebel-government clashes continue along with inter-Arab battles, kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes.
The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) on Sunday reported a fresh spate of violence.
It said rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army's Minni Minnawi faction "attacked and seized" the towns of Muhagiriya and Labado, while "several possible air strikes" were also reported in the area.
The violence prompted thousands of civilians to seek UNAMID protection.
Rebels on Saturday said they killed government troops and occupied an area about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of the South Darfur state capital Nyala.
Some 1.4 million people have been displaced by the conflict.
Major insurgent groups have rejected the Doha pact, which UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in January had seen only limited progress in its implementation.
A breakaway faction of the JEM on Saturday became the second group to join the peace deal, signing a "final agreement" with Khartoum in Doha.
Sudan is perceived as one of the world's most corrupt countries. The development plan proposes an independent monitoring mechanism and other safeguard