Darfur is headed for a disaster unless the Sudanese Government changes its mind and allows a force of United Nations peacekeepers to take over from the existing African Union (AU) operation in the strife-torn region, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.
Warning that the situation in Darfur has become desperate, Mr. Annan told a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York that the world faced a “big challenge” to ensure that there was not a repeat of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
“If the African Union forces were to leave, and we are not able to put in a UN follow-on force, we are heading for a disaster, and I don’t think we can allow that to happen, particularly since we only recently passed the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ resolution,” he said.
At the World Summit last year, Member States agreed there is a collective international obligation to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and the Security Council must take decisive action if there is no peaceful means to protect and the national authorities are manifestly failing to do so.
Referring to the experience in Rwanda, Mr. Annan reminded Member States that “everyone said we should not let it happen again.”
Last month the Council voted to deploy more than 17,000 blue helmets inside Darfur, which has been beset by brutal violence and massive displacement since 2003, and said it “invites the consent” of the Sudanese Government.
Khartoum has said on several occasions that it is opposed to a UN force stepping in, and Mr. Annan reiterated his appeal for other governments with any influence on Sudan to convince the leadership to change its attitude.
In response to a question at the press conference, the Secretary-General said the responsibility to act lay more with the Member States than with the UN itself.
“They are the ones who have to have the political will. They are the ones who have to put pressure to influence the Sudanese Government to act and accept and transition, and several of them have indicated that they will do that,” he said.
Mr. Annan added that Khartoum’s reactions so far to a UN force in Darfur indicate that a so-called “coalition of the willing” would be just as unwelcome.
About 1.9 million people have been displaced and nearly 3 million in total depend on humanitarian aid for food, shelter and health care across Darfur because of the ongoing fighting between rebel groups, Government forces and allied militias.
The situation has worsened since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) in May between the Government and some of the rebel groups it has been fighting. In the past two months, 12 aid workers have been murdered – more than in the entire previous two years.