Welcoming the decision of the African Union (AU) to extend its peacekeeping force in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged all States to support the operation while planning for a handover of responsibilities to the United Nations.
Speaking to the press following a working luncheon with members of the Security Council, Mr. Annan said the UN looks forward to working with the AU and the Sudanese Government in “ensuring that there is effective security on the ground in Darfur that would allow the humanitarian workers to continue their work, ensure protection of the IDPs (internally displaced persons) and ensure access to the needy.”
He said that full details were not yet available, but it appeared that the AU and the Government have at least agreed to a six months extension of the force, and to work with the UN on transition.
“I would also hope that, between now and the time that the UN takes over, measures will be taken to strengthen to the African Union forces which would also be transitioning to the UN forces,” he said, adding that donor countries are being asked to give the AU mission, known as AMIS, “all the support they need to be able to continue the operations until we get there.”
The Secretary-General warned against any stagnation. “I don’t think we can afford a gap, nor can we afford any further deterioration of the security situation, and so it is urgent that we give them the support they need,” he said. “It is urgent that we find ways if possible of strengthening them as we build up to an expanded force and a transition to the United Nations.”
The UN is dependent on countries for success, he stressed. “We can do it if we get the resources. We don’t have standing armies. We have to approach our Member States, and if the Member States give us the resources we need we can be as fast as it ought to be.”
The UN, he said, was pressing ahead with contingency planning for the transition to a blue helmet force and hoped to be ready to work with the AU in anticipation of a Council decision.
The current UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS) was deployed to support the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed about a year ago for south Sudan. It also has a mandate from the UN Security Council to provide some support to the AU mission in Darfur.
However violence involving the rebels, the Government and militias has continued in Darfur, prompting the Security Council to consider augmenting the AU force under the UN, and last month to consider sanctioning individuals deemed to be a threat to the peace or to human rights in the area.
At today’s luncheon, Mr. Annan said, participants discussed the need for governments to press the conflicting parties in Darfur to negotiate in good faith at the talks taking place in Abuja, Nigeria, in order to accelerate a settlement of the crisis, which has recently seen a flare-up in fighting.
The UN, he said, will be working ever more closely with mediator for those talks, Salim Salim, adding that the Council has indicated that they would want to invite him to New York to discuss progress.