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Top UN official urges pressure on Darfur combatants to lay down arms

Top UN official urges pressure on Darfur combatants to lay down arms

Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefs Security Council
Recent fierce fighting in Sudan's devastated Darfur region makes it clear that the international effort to protect the population is at dire risk unless the parties are pressured to negotiate a peace, at top United Nations peacekeeping official said today.

“With the Government intent on military action and the rebels either fighting or fragmenting, it is difficult to see an opening for political negotiations,” Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said as he briefed the Security Council on UNAMID, the hybrid African Union-UN force in Darfur.

“A peacekeeping operation alone cannot bring security to Darfur,” Mr. Mulet said of UNAMID, which took over from an AU-only mission on 1 January in a bid to stop the fighting that has killed more than 200,000 people and uprooted over 2.2 million others since 2003.

In a little more than the past month alone, a rebel offensive in West Darfur, followed by Government and Janjaweed militia ground and air attacks against towns and rebel strongholds, resulted in at least 70 civilians being killed and tens of thousands displaced or pinned down, with some 13,000 fleeing to Chad, he said.

In addition, he said that tensions between Chad and Sudan and the fighting carried out by proxy rebel forces had the potential to regionalize the crisis and derail international peace efforts on both sides of the border.

Meanwhile, he said, UNAMID was pressing forward with deployment, doing “all we can to improve the situation,” though it faced still faced force shortfalls, inconsistent cooperation from the Government, insecurity and logistical difficulties.

As of 10 March, he reported, the mission's total strength was 9,178 uniformed personnel (out of an authorized strength of 26,000), with the majority inherited from the AU mission, AMIS.

During the coming weeks, he said looked forward to the strengthening of the mission through enabling units from Egypt and Nigeria, along with troops from Egypt, Ethiopia, Thailand and Nepal and formed police units (FPUs) from Egypt, Nepal and Indonesia.

The remaining five infantry battalions are not expected to deploy before mid-2008, when they will have completed their major equipment procurement and initial training programmes.

“The timely deployment of these battalions will be linked to donor countries' efforts to support them with equipment, training and self-sustaining capability,” he said, expressing gratitude to the United States and Canada for their “Friends of UNAMID” initiative.

While warning that there is little prospect for beginning substantive negotiations with the parties any time soon, he said that UN and AU Special Envoys Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim are convening informal consultations with regional and international partners in Geneva on 17 and 18 March to take stock of the situation.

Following Mr. Mulet's briefing, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation, which holds the Council Presidency for March, told correspondents that Council members underlined the vital importance of the peace process in Darfur.

Council members also urged all parties there to refrain from hostilities, to respect the norms of international humanitarian law and to cooperate with the speediest possible deployment of UNAMID, Mr. Churkin said in a press statement.

Meanwhile tomorrow, in Dakar, Senegal, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend a mini-summit on the relationship between Sudan and Chad on the margins of the 11th Session of the Islamic Summit Conference, according to a UN spokesperson.

The meeting, hosted by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal will include President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, President Idriss Deby of Chad, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Omar Bongo of Gabon, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania – Chair of the AU – and Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chair of the AU Commission.

The Secretary General will address the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on Thursday and will hold bilaterals with some of the heads of states attending the meeting.