Annan hopes to see Darfur ceasefire soon

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Friday he is encouraged that Sudan’s president will soon agree to a ceasefire in conflict-wracked Darfur, renewed peace efforts, and a hybrid African Union-UN force.

Annan reported the optimistic assessment from a special envoy he sent to Khartoum to deliver a message to Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir—that his support is essential if the UN is to fund and strengthen the beleaguered, 7 000-strong AU force on the ground in Darfur.

“The reports I have received from my envoy in Khartoum, [Ahmedou] Ould Abdallah, encourages me to think we may tomorrow receive a green light from President al-Bashir for a full ceasefire, a renewed effort to bring all parties into [the] political process, and deployment of the proposed AU-UN hybrid force to protect the population,” he said.

But in a farewell speech to the UN Security Council, Annan cautioned: “We will need to see the document that Abdallah will bring.”

“I do fervently hope,” he said, “that we are now at last close to rescuing the people of Darfur from their agony. But after so many disappointments, I take nothing for granted.”

Al-Bashir remains fiercely opposed to a Security Council resolution adopted in August that calls for more than 20 000 UN peacekeepers to replace the overwhelmed AU force in Darfur, and has opposed deployment of UN troops in a hybrid force. He claims a UN force would compromise Sudan’s sovereignty and try to recolonise the country.

In the letter that Ould Abdallah delivered to the Sudanese president, Annan stressed that the three-phase UN plan to help curb escalating violence in Darfur, which culminates with a hybrid AU-UN force, must be accepted in its entirety.

The letter, released on Thursday, follows phone calls between the Sudanese leader and the UN secretary general over the weekend on the stand-off over UN participation in Darfur.

Ceasefire

In the letter, Annan said a ceasefire in Darfur is “imperative” because of the significant increase in violence in the war-torn region over the past few weeks, including an upsurge in attacks on civilians by militias.
To achieve a ceasefire, he said, efforts to get all rebel groups and militias to join the Darfur peace agreement must be immediately reactivated.

Fighting in Darfur began in February 2003 when rebels from black African tribes took up arms, complaining of discrimination and oppression by Sudan’s Arab-dominated government. The government is accused of unleashing Arab tribal militia known as the Janjaweed against civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson—a charge the government denies.

More than 200 000 people have been killed and 2,5-million displaced by three years of fighting between rebels and government troops allied with Arab militia known as Janjaweed.

Annan stressed that the three-step UN plan to beef up the AU force was agreed to in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on November 16 by the 53-nation African body and the international community and later endorsed at a November 30 summit of the AU’s Peace and Security Council—which includes Sudan.

“The unequivocal commitment of all stakeholders to these measures and the active support of your government would be essential to take forward and secure comprehensive UN funding for the three phases, which should be seen as a continuum,” Annan wrote.

Phases

The first phase would add 105 military officers, 33 UN police, 48 international staffers, 36 armoured personnel carriers, night-vision goggles, and global positioning equipment to the AU force, according to a UN report last month.

Annan wrote to al-Bashir that UN personnel and equipment in the first phase “must be deployed without delay”.

A second, larger support package would include the deployment of several hundred UN military, police and civilian personnel to the AU mission along with substantial aviation and logistical assets.

Annan told the Sudanese president that every effort would be made to find African troops for the UN force, but if that proves impossible it will use “a broader pool of troop contributing countries”.

The third phase would be the AU-UN hybrid operation, with the two organisations jointly appointing a special envoy to lead it and the military commanders, and substantial UN involvement in its command and control structure—though al-Bashir had questions about the size and the command issues.

Annan told al-Bashir in the letter that he was proceeding with the proposal for the AU-UN hybrid mission on the assumption that its minimum strength would be 17 300 military personnel, 3 300 civilian police and 16 additional police units.

Annan announced on Monday that former General Assembly president Jan Eliasson, who was also Sweden’s foreign minister, will take up a new role early next year to help in diplomatic efforts to speed up the solution to the Darfur crisis.

Eliasson will help provide a transition on the Darfur issue between Annan and his successor, Ban Ki-moon, who takes over on January 1.—Sapa-AP

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