United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today hailed the African Union’s decision to send an expanded force of troops and police with a broad mandate to protect monitors, aid workers and civilians in the conflict in western Sudan and he called on countries to contribute urgently and generously to the AU as it prepares to deploy.
The AU Peace and Security Council announced yesterday that it would increase its observer mission of 465 to a full peacekeeping force that would include 2,341 military personnel, among them 450 observers, and up to 815 civilian personnel.
Mr. Annan told journalists that he learned from the AU Commission Chairman, currently Alpha Oumar Konare, that “in addition to monitoring the ceasefire, they are supposed to help create an environment that would be conducive to delivery of humanitarian assistance and the return of displaced persons to their homes. And that they also have a mandate to protect civilians in the immediate vicinity, if they are in threat.”
He added that he hoped that they would proceed quickly and that, meanwhile, pressure must be maintained on the Sudanese Government and the rebels to honour their commitments. Mr. Konare had said the AU would work towards a breakthrough in the talks between the Sudanese Government and rebel delegates that started today in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
Through a spokesperson, Mr. Annan also said the planned AU deployment “requires complex and massive planning and logistical support.”
“The Secretary-General considers it essential that the African Union receive the urgent, adequate and continuing support of the international community, not only to quickly deploy but also to sustain effectively its mission,” the statement said.
“The UN will continue to offer the AU whatever assistance it can. The Secretary-General urges all Member States with capacity urgently and generously to provide the required support.”
In Abuja, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, began meetings with representatives of the Sudanese Government, and the Darfur rebel groups – the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
Mr. Pronk, too, welcomed the AU Council’s decision to expand the size and mandate of its force, taking into account recommendations made by the UN.
“The AU has done its part. It’s time now for the others to do theirs: the countries that are in a position to provide the required assistance to the AU must do it without delay, and the Government and the other parties to the Darfur conflict must extend full cooperation with the African Mission,” he said.
“Time is of the essence. Any effort must be exerted to ensure the speedy deployment of the Mission.”