Sudan’s Government today agreed with the United Nations, the African Union (AU) and representatives from Security Council countries and others to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur alongside those of the AU mission already there trying to halt the spiralling violence in the region.
“A hybrid operation is also agreed in principle, pending clarification of the size of the force… The peacekeeping force will have a predominantly African character… Backstopping and command and control structures will be provided by the UN,” according to the communiqué released after a day of intensive meetings in Addis Ababa.
“The strength of the peacekeeping force should be 17,000 and 3,000 police. However, the Government of Sudan representative indicated that he would need to consult with his Government on this figure. The peacekeeping force must enjoy free and unhindered movement in Darfur.”
After the meetings, co-chaired by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Chairperson of the AU Commission, participants stressed in their conclusions on the need for all sides to “immediately commit to a cessation of hostilities,” and also called for a meeting between the Government and those rebel groups which did not sign the peace agreement reached in May.
“With the public declaration to cease all hostilities from all parties, we believe the AU will be able to go one step further and facilitate direct talks between the Government and the non-signatories [to the May agreement] to ensure that there is no impunity for violence in Darfur,” the communiqué stated.
At least 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Darfur as a result of the conflict between Government forces, allied militias and rebels seeking greater autonomy, and more than 2 million others have been displaced.
But the Government has rejected the expansion of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to Darfur and at present the UN assists a 7,000-strong African Union mission (AMIS) and is currently working on a $21 million support package. All participants at today’s meetings, including Sudan’s Government, “agreed on the need to enhance AMIS’ capacity urgently,” the communiqué said.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General also signed an agreement with the Chairman of the AU Commission aimed at further enhancing AU-UN cooperation.
The discussions in Addis Ababa come as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, making his fourth visit to Darfur, met some of the displaced and said it was the worst security situation he had ever seen in the region.
Deadly attacks, particularly against civilians, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and aid workers, are being reported every day throughout Darfur, and in his visit to West Darfur today, Mr. Egeland met non-governmental organization (NGO) and IDP representatives in the capital El Geneina because they told him it was too dangerous to travel to the camps.
“This is my fourth visit to Darfur and I have never before seen such a bad security situation. There are too many armed elements in and around the camps threatening the inhabitants and preventing us from going in,” he said.
“Aid workers in West Darfur cannot move on the roads because they are being attacked and their vehicles are being stolen. Sixty vehicles have been ambushed or stolen in the last year. The violence that is being committed by various groups has frozen aid work in several areas.”
This evening Mr. Egeland is expected to meet with the UN country team in El Geneina and with the Governor of West Darfur, while tomorrow he is scheduled to travel to North Darfur, before returning to Khartoum on Saturday.
In discussions with Sudanese ministers in Khartoum yesterday, Mr. Egeland confirmed that access for humanitarian assistance to Darfur would be extended for another year after the current agreement expires at the end of January.