Any peace accord in southern Sudan will be fragile unless the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region in the country's west is also resolved, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said.
In a recent interview with UN Radio, Mr. Annan said the Organization is accelerating its humanitarian assistance to help more than 1 million people who have become internally displaced in Darfur since early last year, as well as at least 150,000 refugees who have fled into neighbouring Chad.
Urging UN Member States to pool their resources to help civilians affected by the civil conflict and militia attacks in Darfur, he said the international community must demand the Sudanese Government act to help stop the suffering.
"It is the responsibility of the Government to protect but if the Government can't do it, it should be prepared to ask for the help of the international community," he said. "And the international community must insist that these people be protected."
The Secretary-General said he had been talking frequently with the Khartoum Government to pressure the authorities to do more, and would soon personally visit Sudan to further examine the situation in Darfur.
Mr. Annan said it was "unfair" to criticize the UN involvement. "The tendency sometimes is to say that the UN is not doing enough, or the Secretary-General has not done enough," he said, pointing out that "the political will to act" is needed.
The Secretary-General also referred to his personal efforts to intervene. "It was because of my pressure that they opened up and offered visas, not only to the UN, but also to the humanitarian agencies, and [the Sudanese authorities] have indicated that they will allow supplies and equipment to come in unimpeded."
Mr. Annan added: "We should avoid the situations where we allow Member States to hide behind their Secretary-General [and] use him as an alibi for their own inaction."
The Sudanese Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) are close to reaching a full peace agreement that would end the 21-year civil war in southern Sudan. A UN mission is being prepared to begin work once the deal is signed.
But the Secretary-General warned: "You cannot have a comprehensive peace in Sudan without dealing with the situation in the west."
Since early last year two rebel groups in Darfur - the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - have been fighting the Sudanese Government.
Janjaweed militias, bands of Arab fighters armed and recruited by Khartoum, have also been targeting black Africans, ransacking villages and murdering and raping civilians, according to a recent UN human rights report.
UN Radio's exclusive interview will be broadcast Thursday as part of the launch of The UN and Africa, a new weekly 15-minute radio programme dedicated to all issues relevant to the continent, including HIV/AIDS, peacekeeping and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).