Annan - Greater monitoring force needed in Sudan to curb crisis

Thursday, September 2, 2004

UNITED NATIONS -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that Sudan's government has not stopped attacks on "terrorized and traumatized" civilians in its Darfur region and urged the speedy deployment of an expanded international peacekeeping force.

Annan did not say how large a force he wanted, but U.N. diplomats said a U.N. plan presented to the African Union called for about 3,000 peacekeepers. The 53-nation African organization now has about 80 military observers in Darfur, protected by just over 300 soldiers, monitoring a rarely observed cease-fire signed in April.

Annan's report was called for in a Security Council resolution that was adopted July 30 giving Sudan 30 days to demonstrate it was curbing nomadic Arab tribes accused of killing thousands in attacks on African farm villages and also improving access for aid groups. The resolution threatened punitive economic and diplomatic measures if Sudan didn't move quickly.

The secretary-general didn't mention or recommend sanctions, which many council members oppose at this point. His call for an expanded international force, by contrast, was likely to get strong support, especially from the United States.

The 15 Security Council members are to be briefed Thursday by Annan's top envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, whose observations form the basis of the report's conclusions and recommendations.

The report criticized the Sudanese government for failing to meet its key obligations under agreements with the United Nations to rein in the Arab militias, which are accused of killing up to 30,000 people and forcing 1.5 million to flee their homes in the vast and arid Darfur region.

Stemming from long-standing disputes over scarce water and arable land, the conflict erupted when two African groups rebelled last year accusing Sudan's Arab-dominated government of siding with the Arab herders. Aid groups have accused the government of encouraging and supporting the militia attacks, a charge Sudanese leaders deny.

"The most critical commitment that has yet to be implemented relates to the armed militias which continue to pose a serious threat to the civilian population," Annan's report said. "Attacks against civilians are continuing and the vast majority of armed militias has not been disarmed."

On the positive side, Annan cited "some progress" by the government in improving security in newly designated havens for refugees, the deployment of additional police, the beginning of disarmament, and the lifting of restrictions to aid shipments. He also noted the government kept its promise to resume peace talks with the rebels.

But his report made clear much more needed to be done.

"The displaced have been terrorized and traumatized, and have lost confidence in the authorities," Annan said. They don't trust the police and the situation is exacerbated by an "increasing level of animosity between different communities and tribes in Darfur" and "a breakdown of traditional mechanisms to resolve differences."

To help provide security, he told the council "a substantially increased international presence in Darfur is required as quickly as possible." He said an expanded force could decrease the level of violence and enhance the protection of civilians, particularly refugees, providing a respite that would allow the people of Darfur to start reconciliation.

Last month, the African Union proposed sending nearly 2,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, a move strongly backed by the United States but rejected by the Sudanese government. The organization is expected to make its recommendation on an expanded international presence in the coming days, the U.N. diplomats said.

In an interview last week, U.S. Ambassador John Danforth warned that if Sudan resisted an expanded international presence, "then in my view the United States will have been given no choice but to support sanctions."

While the report appeared more negative than positive, Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Elfatih Mohamed Erwa said "If it's read objectively I think it's balanced."

Erwa told reporters Sudan has no objection to increasing the cease-fire monitoring force -- "whether it is 300 or 3,000, if it helps, that's fine." But Sudan would oppose an international force with another mandate, for example to disarm militias or other groups because that could lead to military confrontations, he said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who visited Darfur last week, said Wednesday that the U.N. report confirmed "the modest improvements" he saw, which he said were the result of international pressure.

"But we need to do much more," Straw said. "A culture of impunity continues, with no evidence that the perpetrators of these appalling attacks are being brought to justice."

The Sudanese foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, sent a letter to Security Council members outlining what Sudan has done to comply with the resolution. It also reiterated his government's "readiness and dedication" to abide by the U.N. resolution and to reach a political settlement.

But, he added, "practical difficulties are encountering the implementation."

He appealed for humanitarian aid, support for the 10,000 police officers deployed to Darfur, and rehabilitation of Sudan's railway, including spare parts for its U.S.-built locomotives.

Ismail said the government had stopped "all military offensive acts," was setting up safe areas for refugees, and had instructed militia leaders to abide by U.N. agreements.

"The disarmament process will gain full swing in tandem with the collection of arms from the rebels and other irregular armed ground," he said.

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