Annan heads to Ethiopia for conference to boost African Union efforts in Darfur

25 May 2005

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was expected to arrive today in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, ahead of a meeting to bolster international support for the African Union (AU) mission in Sudan's Darfur region.

Mr. Annan is due to co-chair the donor meeting tomorrow in Addis Ababa – home to the Union's headquarters – with AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré, formerly the President of Mali.

The pledging conference aims to rally support for the AU Mission (AMIS) 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.

From Addis Ababa, 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 New York, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, set the stage for the pledging conference by praising the "remarkable" efforts of the relatively small AU force in the areas where it has been able to deploy.

Although there was no doubt that without the pan-African troops the situation would be worse, only a strengthened and expanded AU presence could ensure widespread peace and stability, he said at a press briefing on his just completed weeklong visit to the region. A successful outcome tomorrow in Addis Ababa was essential if AMIS was to be provided with what was needed to do its job properly.

Mr. Guéhenno said that his first-hand visit to Darfur revealed the immensity of the crisis – particularly the "heartbreaking" conditions he saw in some of the burned out villages and the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). He praised the work of the humanitarian community for undertaking the massive job of feeding and sheltering so many desperate people.

The AU force of just over 2,500 was making "real improvements" in the situation, he said. Their presence had helped create a sense of confidence and security, which was welcome, and in many instances led to sporadic returns. "But when you go to many of the IDP camps, the people are still afraid to return to their homes," he said.

"We need to make the pledging conference a success," he said, because the overall situation needed to change. And while more money would certainly be welcome, the AU was really looking for technical and logistical support. AMIS particularly needed equipment – from helicopters and sleeping bags, to flak jackets and transistor radios.

Procurement takes time, and the AU did not always have sufficient capacities to secure equipment. Partners, he said, may be better placed to provide equipment directly, which would allow the AU to put more boots on the ground faster. In the past, the AU had provided detailed lists of what was needed. Often these things were sitting in stockrooms of military operations around the world.

"They are doing a remarkable job, but could do even better if they were better equipped, and this would help build confidence in returns," Mr. Guéhenno said.

He also stressed the need for the international community to support the political process that the AU was leading on the ground as well. This was as essential as military deployment, and without the two, the situation in Darfur would remain fragile.

The recent comprehensive agreement ending Sudan's North-South conflict has been a major breakthrough, Mr. Guéhenno said, adding that there was an immense expectation on the ground for the arrival of UN "blue helmets" to help consolidate that part of the peace process. All sides were looking forward to the full deployment of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which will be rather difficult with the coming rainy season, he added.