Thursday, November 23, 2006

Annan awaits Sudan letter on hybrid UN force for Darfur; UN aid chief warns of 'abyss'

Nov 23 2006 African News Dimension report:
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today said he was awaiting a letter from Sudan's Government regarding the agreement reached last week on a hybrid UN-African Union force for strife-torn Darfur, while the world body's top aid official warned the Security Council that the region was heading towards an 'abyss' of suffering.

"I spoke to President [Omar Hassan Al] Bashir today and he has indicated that he will be writing to me shortly and I think I should wait for his letter. But in Addis Ababa we agreed to the three phases," Mr. Annan told reporters after briefing the Council on last Thursday's deal reached in the Ethiopian capital.

"The Sudanese delegation had a few questions [on the force] that they wanted to go back and discuss and that's why in presenting the issue to the public I said they had agreed to hybrid operations in principle subject to the clarification of the three issues. And the three issues were the size of the force, the appointment of the Force Commander and the Special Representative, which would be jointly reporting to UN and African Union."

The communique that came out of last week's high-level meeting recommended a peacekeeping force of 17,000 with 3,000 police however, as the UN's top aid official warned the Council today before Mr. Annan's briefing, it may take months for these forces to be deployed but "Darfurians can not wait another day."

"We need therefore the attacks to stop now... All of this leaves the situation in West Darfur, and in Darfur at large, closer to the abyss than I have witnessed since my first visit in 2004," said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, who recently returned after his fourth mission to the region was cut short because the Government refused him access to several areas, citing security concerns.

"The Government's failure to protect its own citizens even in areas where there are no rebels has been shameful, and continues. So does our own failure, more than a year after world leaders in this very building pledged their own responsibility to protect civilians where the Government manifestly fails to do so."

Painting a particularly grim picture of the humanitarian situation in Darfur, where 4 million people - two thirds of the region's population - are now in need of emergency assistance, Mr. Egeland also repeated his warning of the conflict's wider impact in Africa, while criticizing the Government for its state of denial toward the atrocities.

"Large new militias are being armed as we speak while none are being disarmed... New displacement is also fuelled by cross-border raids of armed groups who receive arms and safe haven on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border, thereby rapidly pushing the conflict towards a regional escalation," he said.

"The rampant insecurity, proliferation of arms, and banditry on roads has taken its toll on the delivery capacity of an increasingly beleaguered humanitarian community... If this trend continues and the world's largest humanitarian operation falters, if the lifeline for millions of civilians collapses, the situation in Darfur will spiral out of control," he warned.

"Earlier, each time I have travelled to Sudan, I have hoped to see a fundamental change in the attitude of the Government, an attitude that has been characterized by denial, neglect and the blaming of others. Yet again, I saw this time no such change, but rather a further entrenching of this attitude. Senior Government officials continue to deny the killings, the displacements and the rape of women."

Mr. Egeland expressed his hope that last week's deal reached in Addis Ababa can "mark an historic turning point to something better," but he also expressed the fear that "time is now lost in talks on the intricacies of the AU/UN partnership rather than the immediate deployment of a more effective force with a more proactive mandate."

At least 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Darfur as a result of the conflict between Government forces, allied militias and rebels seeking greater autonomy, and more than 2 million others have been displaced.

But the Government has rejected the expansion of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to Darfur and at present the UN assists a 7,000-strong African Union mission (AMIS) and is currently working on a $21 million support package. However the AMIS mandate expires on 31 December and Mr. Annan warned yesterday that the world "cannot afford a gap, a vacuum at the end of the year."

The AU Peace and Security Council is scheduled to meet in Abuja on 29 November when they will discuss Darfur and AMIS.

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, also briefed the Council today on UN support to AMIS as well as on a fact-finding mission to Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) regarding the impact of the killings in neighbouring Darfur.

Representatives from almost 20 countries also spoke during the Council session.

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