UN becoming anxious over Darfur

Two pending United Nations decisions could shake up peace talks being held in Nigeria on the conflict in the strife-torn Sudanese region of Darfur.

The United States has proposed UN sanctions against four Sudanese government officials while the UN wants to take over the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in Darfur.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the Sudanese government has used the peace talks in Abuja to justify delaying a UN mission to assess peacekeeping needs in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands are said to have died in recent years.

Sudanese officials told UN deputy secretary general for peacekeeping operations Hedi Annabi “that this was not the time for a UN assessment mission to go into Darfur and that they would rather wait till the Abuja process is completed”, he said.

The UN Security Council ordered a mission before the end of the month to determine the size, scope and equipment needs for a UN force in Darfur.

After months of inconclusive negotiations, the international community has given the AU-brokered Darfur peace talks until April 30 to reach agreement.

AU mediator Salim Ahmed Salim of Tanzania on Tuesday told the UN that “The conflict in Darfur … seems at last to be ripe for resolution.”

“For the first time there are intensive bilateral and direct discussions between the parties, as well as meetings facilitated by the [AU] mediation,” he said. “We are hopeful that the differences can be narrowed.”

Three years of fighting between rebels and Khartoum-backed militias in Sudan have left up to 300 000 people dead and 2,4-million displaced, according to international estimates.

The AU has deployed 7 000 troops in Darfur, but they lack adequate logistical support. On March 10, the AU agreed to transfer peacekeeping duties to a UN force over the objections of some of its members, including Sudan.

Rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army and the National Movement for Reform and Development, are demanding greater autonomy and a bigger share of Sudan’s national resources — chiefly its oil — for Darfur which they say has been marginalised by the Khartoum government.

Diplomats said the UN Security Council was unlikely to decide before Friday on a US draft resolution calling for sanctions against four Sudanese officials accused over the bloodshed in Darfur.

On Monday, China’s UN envoy Wang Guangya, the president of the council for April, argued that “this is not the right moment” to impose sanctions because of the Abuja talks.

The AU, meanwhile, is hesitating about the timing of sanctions, Tanzanian Ambassador Augustine Mahiga said. He added that such measures “could have negative or positive consequences on the Abuja peace process.”

“There are three possibilities: do we adopt the sanctions now, do we adopt them shortly before [April 30th] or later?”

To avoid discouraging the peace talks in case sanctions are approved, Tanzania suggested that the Security Council also adopt a presidential statement “to recognise and encourage the efforts which are going on in Abuja.”

The suggestion was accepted and Tanzania was tasked with drafting the statement, Mahiga said. — AFP

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