Warning that “something very ugly is brewing” in Darfur, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown today urged the international community to pay close attention to the crisis in the impoverished and strife-torn region of western Sudan.
“We are extraordinarily concerned,” Mr. Malloch Brown told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, calling attention to the worsening humanitarian and security situation in the remote region in recent months and “the absence of a clear political path to the deployment of a UN force.”
A draft resolution circulating among Security Council members outlines the size and scope of a possible UN peacekeeping operation, which would replace the current mission of the African Union (AU). But so far the Sudanese Government has said it is opposed to having blue helmets in Darfur.
In a closed-door briefing yesterday, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi told the Council that Khartoum is building up its armed forces in Darfur, an apparent sign that it is determined to pursue a major military offensive there soon.
The period since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) in early May has been marked not only by fierce fighting, but also by an unprecedented number of attacks on humanitarian workers – in July alone there were 36 reported incidents that led to nine deaths.
Mr. Annabi said some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have indicated they may be forced to withdraw entirely from North Darfur, one of three states which comprise the region, because of the dangers to their staff members.
Last week Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote to the Council to express his alarm about the situation, pointing out it has become much harder for those aid workers who remain to direct humanitarian assistance to those in need. As many as 1.6 million people are currently inaccessible, Mr. Annan said in his letter.
Today, Mr. Malloch Brown urged the reporters to not forget about Darfur, despite the importance of other crises in the world.
He acknowledged that it is “hard to keep two stories in the air at once” but stressed that “it is very, very important that we all pay lots of attention to Darfur.”
Scores of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million others have been displaced since conflict erupted in 2003 between rebels, Government forces and allied militia groups in Darfur, a region roughly the size of France.