United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is set to co-chair a pledging conference on Thursday to support the African Union's (AU) mission in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where for the past two years rebels have been waging a war against the Government and its allied militias, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and forcing some 2 million people from their homes.
Mr. Annan's co-chair at the 26 May donors' meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – home to the Union's headquarters – will be AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré, formerly the President of Mali.
After the Security Council's monthly luncheon, Mr. Annan told journalists at UN Headquarters in New York that there are plans to increase the AU peacekeeping force in Darfur to 8,000 from the current strength of just a little over 2,000, "and we are bringing together donors and partners who are in a position to help."
"We need money. We are about $350 million short. I hope donors who have pledged will convert their pledges into cash as soon as possible," he added.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the European Union's top foreign policy official Javier Solana will be at the pledging conference and many countries will also be represented there, he said.
The UN had worked with the African Union to package their needs and had also assisted it with planning and logistical preparations. He said he was going to Addis primarily to get additional logistical, communication, transport and financial support for the AU forces.
From Addis, Mr. Annan is scheduled to go to Sudan's capital, Khartoum, troubled Darfur and southern Sudan's newly peaceful town of Rumbek, returning to UN Headquarters on 1 June. He also visited Darfur last July.
In Khartoum he is expected to meet Sudanese Government officials, AU officials and UN system representatives.
Mr. Annan is returning to Darfur "to see at first hand one of the world's worst humanitarian crises and the progress being made in meeting the people's needs on the ground," a UN spokesman said earlier Monday.
He is also hoping to revitalize the AU-mediated but stalled political negotiations and focus attention on the area's humanitarian needs.
In Rumbek, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet John Garang, Chairman of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which fought a war against the Government for many years before reaching a peace agreement and getting some autonomy for southern Sudan this year.