ROME (AP) – The United Nations began air-drops of food into Sudan’s conflict-ridden Darfur region, a U.N. agency said Monday, the same day Egypt said it was airlifting medicines and other necessities.

The Rome-based U.N. World Food Program said that it had dropped 22 tons of food supplies to the farming town of Fur Buranga in western Darfur on Sunday using an Antonov-12 plane.

The agency plans to deliver a total of some 1,400 tons of food in a first round of airdrops to help more than 70,000 people displaced by the 17-month conflict. The agency has said it anticipates that the air-supply effort in Darfur will exceed the Berlin airlift of the late 1940s.

Meanwhile, Egypt began airlifting food, medicine and other basics to Darfur.

One Hercules C-130 cargo plane left Cairo and will be followed by four others carrying medicine, tents, vaccines, ambulances and a medical team, Defense Ministry officials said.

They said the supplies were donated by the Egyptian Red Crescent with the help of the ministry.

The World Food Program said it intends to continue airdrops throughout the rainy season, which lasts into September. During that period trucks carrying food get bogged down in mud and take an average of three weeks to reach Darfur from Port Sudan on the Red Sea, the agency said.

Trucks are also at risk from bandits, the agency said.

“Dropping food by air is always an expensive last resort, but for many parts of Darfur we simply have no other option at this time of year,” said Ramiro Lopes Da Silva, the agency’s country director in Sudan.

The agency appealed for funds, saying it had so far received only $78.5 million of the $195 million to cover its emergency work in Darfur this year.

An estimated 30,000 people have been killed in the 17-month conflict in Darfur. A million people have been forced to flee their homes, and an estimated 2.2 million people are in urgent need of food, medicine and other basics.

International aid organizations have accused the Sudanese government of supporting the Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, in a brutal campaign to drive Sudanese citizens of African origin out of Darfur.

AP-ES-08-02-04 1046EDT

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