Describing the Darfur crisis as one of his top priorities in office, the new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced plans today to enter immediately into diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in the Sudanese region, holding a meeting with his senior envoy tomorrow and attending an African Union (AU) summit later this month.
Addressing reporters at UN Headquarters, Mr. Ban said he spoke to his Special Envoy, the former General Assembly president and Swedish foreign minister Jan Eliasson, by telephone yesterday and would discuss Darfur further during their meeting, scheduled for tomorrow morning.
Mr. Eliasson – who was appointed last month – has been tasked with working the diplomatic channels, especially outside Sudan, and encouraging governments in their home capitals to remain engaged on this issue.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million others displaced from their homes since 2003 when clashes erupted in Darfur between Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups seeking greater autonomy. The UN estimates that 4 million people now depend on humanitarian assistance.
Mr. Ban said he hoped to meet Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir and other African leaders, including AU Commission President Alpha Oumar Konaré, when he attends the AU summit later this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“I will pay my highest attention on this…. By engaging myself in the diplomatic process, I hope that we will be able to resolve peacefully, as soon as possible, this very serious issue,” he told reporters.
Last week the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Mr. Bashir had accepted a three-phased approach leading to the deployment of a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur.
That agreement followed a visit to Khartoum earlier last month by the UN envoy, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, to press the Sudanese Government on the need for stronger and more urgent action to stop the suffering in Darfur.
Under the first phase, which was already agreed upon, the UN is providing a $21 million “light support package” to the existing AU force in Darfur, known as AMIS. This includes the deployment of 24 police advisers and 43 staff officers.
Mr. Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas said the UN is working with the AU to submit details to the Sudanese Government of its plans for the second phase, which includes the deployment of several hundred UN military, police and civilian staff to help AMIS.
The eventual hybrid force is expected to comprise about 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers, compared to AMIS’ current total of just 7,000 troops to monitor an area roughly the size of France.
Ms. Montas added that Mr. Ban is also expected to chair a taskforce meeting on Darfur on Thursday.
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reports today that the overall security situation inside Darfur has remained fairly calm so far during the Islamic period of Eid al-Adha, although there have been a number of isolated cases of killings and robberies.