The situation in Darfur has reached a crossroads, with dire humanitarian and security conditions, continued attacks against civilians and African Union (AU) peacekeepers, inter-tribal fighting and aerial bombardments, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today as he called for an immediate end to hostilities and a comprehensive solution – including political reconciliation and economic development – to the conflict.
Speaking after two days of consultations with AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konaré and other AU and UN officials in New York, Mr. Ban reiterated his welcome of the Sudanese Government's announcement confirming its support of the UN's entire “heavy support package” to the existing AU peace force.
But he stressed that the package must be implemented as soon as possible and called for the finalization of plans for the proposed hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed since 2003.
“We have also agreed to intensify our political process,” Mr. Ban told reporters today in a press encounter with Mr. Konaré, adding that all rebel leaders in Darfur would be included in the process.
“There will be a two-track approach: the political process and we are also trying to work on a development package for the Sudanese and Darfur people.”
Mr. Ban and Mr. Konaré said they had instructed their respective envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, to devise a road map towards substantive negotiations and an eventual comprehensive solution to the conflict.
Rebel groups have been fighting Government forces and allied Janjaweed militias across Darfur, a vast and impoverished region in western Sudan, for four years. Aside from the massive death toll, more than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes and double that number depend on UN agencies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for aid.
The conflict is threatening to spill into neighbouring Chad, where thousands of refugees from Darfur have fled, and the Central African Republic (CAR), and Mr. Ban and Mr. Konaré voiced concern at the increasing tensions between Sudan and Chad and urged the two countries to normalize relations and stop all cross-border activities.
The UN and AU chiefs also called for the Sudanese Government and others to meet all their commitments under recent communiqués concerning humanitarian access and security.
Under the heavy support package, the UN will supply troops, police officers, civilian staff, helicopter gunships and other resources to the AU mission in Darfur, known as AMIS. The following phase of the plan will see the introduction of a hybrid force of more than 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers, compared with AMIS' current level of 7,000 troops.
They also expressed concern about funding for AMIS and urged international donors to help to provide a viable and sustained way of supporting the operation.
Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported that a fire broke out yesterday in the marketplace of a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North Darfur state, destroying about 100 shops.
No casualties were reported at the fire, which took place at Abu Shouk camp, and the Mission said local police believed the blaze was started accidentally.
AMIS is also investigating the weekend deaths of four children who were reportedly killed by unexploded ordnance in West Darfur.