Annan hears tales of abuse in Darfur

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Darfur on Saturday after warning warring parties and international donors that time is running out to broker peace and avoid an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.

On the second day of his whistle-stop tour of Sudan, Annan was confronted with the devastation caused by more than two years of fighting between ethnic minority rebels and government forces.

He kicked off his trip to the western Sudanese region with a visit of Kalma, Darfur’s largest camp for displaced people, where he listened to tribal leaders’ accounts of human rights violations.

“This is totally not acceptable and we will work with the authorities to make sure the IDPs [internally displaced people] are protected,” Annan said.

Suleiman Abu Bakr, speaking on behalf of the tribal leaders, claimed that 56 people have been killed in the camp since March and 580 women sexually assaulted in recent months.

He blamed the attacks on Sudanese police and the infamous Janjaweed, the pro-government Arab militias that the government has used as proxies in its scorched-earth campaign to crush the Darfur rebellion.

The head of the Sudan Liberation Movement, the main Darfur rebel group, said two civilians were killed in Kalma just before Annan’s visit on Friday and another two in Zamzam camp in North Darfur.

“The situation is going to worsen for the displaced when the rain season starts,” said Abdelwahed Mohammed Ahmed Nur.

“We want the UN and the international community to take decisive action because there is a risk that four million people will die if nothing is done.”

The region is facing chronic food shortages because farmers have not been able to sow crops ahead of the rainy season amid ongoing violence in the western region.

As aid agencies struggle to cope with the flow of starving displaced Darfurians, the African Union peace mission in the region is also seeking to boost its security operation.

Annan travelled to the town of Labado, one of the worst hit in the Darfur conflict, to meet with the AU’s Nigerian commander, General Festus Okonkwo, who demanded more men and equipment.

The pan-African body announced on Friday, after Annan warned that the world is running “a race against time” to solve the Darfur crisis, that it has received $292-million in donations.

The AU wants more than $460-million in cash, military equipment and logistical support to boost its current 2 700-strong truce-monitoring operation to more than 7 700 by September.

Annan urged Nato, the European Union and individual countries to help the AU expand its operation in Darfur, a vast semi-arid region about the size of France.

The UN chief welcomed the AU donations but stressed that additional resources are needed to cover Darfur’s relief effort and the reconstruction of Sudan’s pacified south.

“What we need is additional resources to cover both crises and we are appealing to the donors to really help us get the resources required to get the job done,” he said.

He warned that lack of funding in south Sudan, where a landmark peace deal was clinched between southern rebels and Khartoum’s government in January, may jeopardise the agreement’s implementation.

Annan is due to visit Rumbek and others areas in southern Sudan on Sunday, on his first visit to the region since the deal between Khartoum and John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.

“We should not allow the peace agreement to get into trouble for a lack of money,” Annan said.

Before flying south, where an estimated 1,5-million people were killed in 21 years of civil war, Annan is due to meet Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha and exert more pressure for a rapid solution to the Darfur crisis.

Annan said he is hopeful that negotiations between rebels and Khartoum, set to resume in Nigeria’s capital on June 10, will yield a peace deal.

“I hope when they get there this time, they are going to stay there and negotiate in a sustained manner until they get an agreement,” he said.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who is due to visit Sudan next week, acknowledged that Khartoum is now “working hard” towards a political solution for Darfur.

According to some estimates, about 300 000 people have died and more than two million have been displaced in what the UN has described as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.—Sapa-AFP

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