Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that the Sudanese Government has promised to respond formally by tomorrow morning about the details for a planned hybrid United Nations-African Union (AU) force to assume peacekeeping duties in the war-torn region of Darfur.
Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan said Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir made the pledge during a telephone call today, one day before an AU summit in Abuja is slated to discuss the proposed joint operation.
Asked about media reports that Mr. Bashir has said he remains opposed to any kind of UN force in Darfur, Mr. Annan said he would “much rather wait” for the formal response.
Following a meeting in Addis Ababa on 16 November between the UN, AU, Sudan and representatives of Security Council members and other countries, a communiqué was issued stating that the hybrid UN-AU operation will have about 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers. This operation is designed to take over from the current AU peace operation in Darfur (known as AMIS), which is approximately 7,000-strong.
Mr. Annan said that the Sudanese Government announced after the Addis Ababa meeting that it needed to discuss several issues – specifically the size and strength of the force, and the appointment of several key posts – before coming back to the other parties with a response.
On Saturday, officials from the UN and the AU signed a memorandum of understanding in Addis Ababa setting out the details of a separate $21 million support package which the UN is providing to AMIS.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno will attend the AU summit in Abuja tomorrow, along with Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, the officer-in-charge of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
Mr. Zerihoun held talks yesterday with Salim Ahmed Salim, the Special Envoy of AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Omar Konaré, to discuss how to re-energize the political process in Darfur, a remote and impoverished region in western Sudan that is roughly the size of France.
At least 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Darfur since 2003 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.