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Annan describes Sudanese agreement to hybrid force in Darfur as ‘turning point’

Annan describes Sudanese agreement to hybrid force in Darfur as ‘turning point’

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that the Sudanese Government’s agreement in principle last week to a hybrid United Nations-African Union (AU) peacekeeping force inside Darfur could become “a turning point” in stemming the spiralling misery in the war-torn region and resolving the deadly conflict.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Geneva, he said the key now is to “press ahead with immediate implementation because we cannot afford a gap [or] a vacuum at the end of the year.”

Mr. Annan said he expected a response from Sudan by today or tomorrow about the size of the force, which the UN has said is likely to require 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers.

“I know that the Sudanese and the regional leaders are meeting in Libya this morning and I suspect they will come up with some definitive answer. So I’m quite hopeful,” he said.

Agreement on the size of the peacekeeping force is necessary so that the Chairperson of the Commission of the AU, Alpha Oumar Konaré, can place a proposal before the AU’s Peace and Security Committee on Friday.

Mr. Annan’s comments follow a meeting last Thursday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where the UN, the AU, Sudan, representatives from Security Council members and others agreed to set up a hybrid operation that “will have a predominantly African character,” according to a communiqué outlining the meeting’s conclusions.

“Backstopping and command and control structures will be provided by the UN,” the communiqué added.

The Secretary-General said the deal was significant because “for the first time, we were all in one room and agreed [to] an approach… which we now have to implement.”

More than 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Darfur since 2003 because of fighting between Government forces, allied militias and rebels seeking greater autonomy, while 4 million others now depend on humanitarian aid to survive.

The Sudanese Government has repeatedly rejected the expansion of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which already operates in the south of the vast country as it implements a separate peace deal there, into Darfur. Currently the UN helps a 7,000-strong AU mission, known as AMIS, and is also providing a $21 million support package.

Meanwhile, UNMIS reported today that the security situation inside Darfur has deteriorated, especially in the south of the remote and impoverished region.

Fighting erupted yesterday between an Arab militia and members of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) rebel group near the town of Saleah in South Darfur, and UNMIS said it was continuing sporadically this morning.

In the same area, unidentified armed men hijacked two vehicles belonging to an international non-governmental organization (NGO) and a local group as they completed a humanitarian assessment mission. No one was injured during the hijacking.

But in neighbouring Chad, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that armed men on horseback killed a worker for Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in the south-east of the country last week.

OCHA said a second MSF worker was wounded in the attack, while seven other employees of the NGO and 3,200 displaced people they were helping remain missing.