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Former General Assembly president chosen as UN envoy on Darfur crisis

Former General Assembly president chosen as UN envoy on Darfur crisis

Jan Eliasson
Secretary-General Kofi Annan today announced that the former General Assembly president and Swedish foreign minister Jan Eliasson has been appointed as a special envoy to deal with the spiralling humanitarian and security crisis in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.

Speaking to reporters in New York at his year-end press conference, Mr. Annan said that he and Secretary-General-designate Ban Ki-moon had agreed to ask Mr. Eliasson – who served as Assembly president during its 60th session in 2005-06 – to serve in the new post.

“I expect him to [assume] his activities [on Sudan] at the beginning of the year,” Mr. Annan said.

Responding to a question, the Secretary-General said Mr. Eliasson’s main task would be to “the work the diplomatic channels,” especially outside Sudan, to encourage governments in their home capitals to remain engaged on the issue.

A new Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan will be designated shortly to replace Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, he added.

Yesterday Mr. Annan and Mr. Ban met representatives of the Security Council’s five permanent members to discuss the deteriorating situation inside Darfur, a remote and impoverished region in western Sudan that has been beset by fighting since 2003.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million others displaced from their homes since clashes first erupted between Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups seeking greater autonomy. The UN estimates that 4 million people now depend on humanitarian assistance.

Tomorrow another UN special envoy, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, will start his diplomatic mission in Khartoum, holding talks with Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir to clarify details of recent agreements on ending the fighting in Darfur, including on the role of the UN.

Mr. Ould-Abdallah and Mr. el-Bashir will discuss the deal reached at last month’s High-Level meeting on Darfur, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the UN, the African Union (AU) and Sudan agreed that the UN would provide extra support to the current AU peacekeeping mission – known as AMIS – as part of a three-phase process culminating in AMIS becoming a hybrid UN-AU mission.

The hybrid force is expected to have about 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers, compared to the current AMIS strength of around 7,000.

Mr. Ould-Abdallah and Mr. el-Bashir will also discuss the outcome of a subsequent AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, which endorsed the conclusions reached in Addis Ababa.

Under the first phase of enhanced UN support, the UN is giving AMIS a $21 million “light support package,” which includes the provision of some equipment as well as 105 military advisers, 33 police officers and 48 civilian staff from the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) – a separate peacekeeping operation mandated to oversee a peace pact that ended the 21-year war in the country’s south.

Endorsing the agreements reached at Addis Ababa and Abuja, the Security Council today called for the conclusions to be implemented immediately, especially the deployment of the UN light support package.

In a presidential statement read out by Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser of Qatar, which holds the rotating Council presidency this month, the 15-member body reiterated its grave concern about the situation inside Darfur and its repercussions for the wider region.

The latest UN initiatives to bring peace come as UNMIS reports that on Monday night a group of about 20 unidentified armed men attacked the compounds of two international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the South Darfur town of Gereida, about 90 kilometres south of the state capital, Nyala.

The men stole 12 vehicles and a number of computers from the compounds, although there were no reports of injuries, according to the Mission. Some 71 aid workers have since been temporarily relocated to Nyala for their safety.

The Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative and UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Manuel Aranda da Silva, said the NGOs affected carry out critical work in Gereida, ensuring that about 130,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have access to drinking water, food and basic health care.

“That is why this sort of incident is a huge blow,” he said, adding that aid workers have become increasingly targeted in recent months.

“How can we expect them to carry out humanitarian work without vehicles to get to camps, phones to communicate, and the constant threat to their own physical safety? This is preventing humanitarian organizations from providing lifesaving assistance.”

The UN annual work plan for Sudan, launched last week in Geneva, forecasts that the troubled African country needs more than $1.8 billion next year to fund humanitarian and development projects, with the conflict in Darfur and reconstruction efforts in southern Sudan, where the UN is monitoring implementation of a peace agreement that ended over two decades of conflict there, absorbing most of the costs.