United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today strongly condemned reported Janjaweed militia attacks supported by Sudanese forces on three towns in West Darfur resulting in the deaths of some 200 people.
Abu Suruj, Sirba and Seleia, town north of West Darfur's capital, were the scene of violence on 8 February. Abu Suruj, where thousands of civilians make their home, was burnt to the ground, while the assault on Seleia reportedly included air strikes by the Government.
Mr. Ban "stresses that all parties must adhere to international humanitarian law, which prohibits military attacks against civilians," according to a statement issued by his spokesperson.
"All parties must urgently cease hostilities, and commit to the political process being led by the Special Envoys of the United Nations and the African Union," he said.
In a related development, the UN-African Union (AU) hybrid peacekeeping operation and the Sudanese Government today signed an agreement today which provides the legal framework to allow blue helmets to operate.
Rodolph Adada, the UN-AU Joint Special Representative for Darfur, and Deng Alor, Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister, signed the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in the capital Khartoum.
SOFA covers the activities of the military, police and civilian personnel of the mission, known as UNAMID, which seeks to stem the violence in the war-ravaged Darfur region, where over 200,000 people have been killed and 2.2 million others forced to flee their homes since fighting began in 2003 among Government forces, rebel groups and allies militia groups known as the Janjaweed.
Today's agreement also extends to UNAMID funds, property and communications facilities, as well as the mission's personnel, their safety and security, privileges and immunities, and entry into and exit from Sudan.
It also noted that the Joint Special Representative, UNAMID Force Commander and Government representatives "shall take appropriate measures to ensure close and reciprocal liaison at every level."
SOFA is an "important milestone" in the deployment of UNAMID, Mr. Adada said, pledging to work with the Government towards putting it into practice and ensure the success of the peacekeeping force.
The Sudanese Foreign Minister characterized the agreement as the beginning of efforts by both parties to help the people of Darfur, and that by signing SOFA, the Government is committing to its implementation. "As a government, we have the responsibility to protect our people," Mr. Alors observed.
In the Security Council yesterday, top UN officials underscored that recent clashes in Chad and the ongoing violence in Darfur are impeding progress towards peace and will negatively affect UNAMID, which is under-resourced.
"Over the last few months, the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur and the region has dramatically deteriorated, most recently through events related to Chad," Jan Eliasson, UN Special Envoy for Darfur, told the Council.
Also addressing the Council, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno underscored the impact of the violence on the humanitarian situation.
"In addition to prolonging the suffering of millions of civilians in the region and complicating the peace process, continued hostilities will have negative consequences for the deployment of UNAMID, and will distract the mission from implementing its mandate," he said.
Mr. Guehenno, who recently visited Sudan, emphasized that UNAMID operation is "severely under-resourced for the tasks which it was mandated to perform" since it lacks the necessary troops, police and equipment, including military aircraft and ground transportation, to provide protection to Darfurians.