Warning that “the tragedy in Darfur has reached a critical moment,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the international community today to live up to its promise last year to protect civilians in trouble and immediately press the Sudanese Government to accept United Nations peacekeepers.
In an address to a Security Council meeting on Darfur, Mr. Annan stressed that the humanitarian and security conditions have become so dire that Council members must use all their means to convince Khartoum that UN blue helmets should take over the work of the existing African Union (AU) force.
“It is time to act. Not only in Darfur, but by people around the world, this is seen as a crucial test of the Council’s authority and effectiveness, its solidarity with people in need, and its seriousness in the quest for peace,” he said.
Almost 2 million people are displaced as a result of the brutal conflict that has engulfed Darfur, an impoverished region on Sudan’s western flank, since 2003, while nearly 3 million people there depend on international aid for food, shelter and health care.
The situation has worsened considerably since the signing in May of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) between the Government and some of the rebel groups it has been fighting. In the past two months, 12 aid workers have been killed – more than in the entire previous two years.
Mr. Annan said the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will have to drastically scale back their humanitarian operations in Darfur unless the security situation improves.
“Can we, in conscience, leave the people of Darfur to such a fate? Can the international community, having not done enough for the people of Rwanda in their time of need, just watch as this tragedy deepens?” he asked.
“Having finally agreed just one year ago that there is a responsibility to protect, can we contemplate failing yet another test? Lessons are either learned or not; principles are either upheld or scorned. This is no time for the middle ground of half-measures or further debate.”
The Secretary-General condemned the recent offensive by Government forces, which has included renewed aerial bombing and the deployment of thousands of armed troops, in violation of the DPA.
He urged Khartoum to embrace resolution 1706, by which the Council voted to deploy a UN force of more than 17,000 peacekeepers across Darfur and said it “invites the consent” of the Sudanese Government.
“My voice alone will not convince the Government,” said the Secretary-General, detailing his efforts to explain the transition to the Government, and to clear up any misconceptions or myths.
“It is time now for additional voices to make themselves heard. We need governments and individual leaders in Africa and beyond, that are in a position to influence the government of Sudan, to bring that pressure to bear without delay. There must also be a clear, strong and uniform message from this Council,” Mr. Annan declared.
Yassin Abdelsalam, Ambassador of Sudan – which has stated repeatedly that it does not want UN troops in Darfur – told the Council meeting that his Government remains open to dialogue and cooperation with the UN.
But he said Council members had ignored or downplayed attacks by rebel groups and had not considered the Government’s own plan for stabilizing the situation in Darfur.
Among the over one dozen participants addressing the Council, the League of Arab States’ Permanent Observer, Yaha Mahmassani, emphasized that cooperation was the only way to achieve a peaceful solution in Darfur, while the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s Permanent Observer Abdul Wahab said any UN deployment must have the consent of the Sudanese Government.