/ 4 December 2007

‘Future of Darfur sits on a knife-edge’

A delegation of the world’s elder statesmen on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire in Sudan’s Darfur and for the international community to urgently honour its pledge to send in a United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force.

”The future of Darfur, and indeed the whole of Sudan, sits on a knife-edge,” said a report following a fact-finding mission by four members of the group known as the Elders, which include former United States president Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

”On one side, peace is within reach, and innocent civilians could finally be secure. On the other is a new cycle of violence and despair with devastating consequences for the entire country,” they said.

Carter, Tutu, Graca Machel — a long time campaigner for children’s rights and wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela — and Lakhdar Brahimi, a former UN envoy to Iraq, travelled in September to Darfur, where over 200 000 people have died and 2,5 million have been displaced since ethnic Africans took up arms against the ethnic Arab-dominated government after years of neglect.

The Elders, a group of 13, was launched to celebrate Mandela’s 89th birthday in July and is dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crises.

The Elders said they chose Darfur as their first mission because it is a ”blight on the conscience of humanity”.

During their four-day visit they met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, government and opposition representatives as well as international and humanitarian organisations.

They also travelled to camps for displaced Darfuris where they met with tribal leaders and women’s organisations.

In the report they raised concerns about the spiralling violence, which has seen the rape of women and children as well as attacks on African peacekeepers and aid organisations.

”Lawlessness and insecurity have bred a culture of violence throughout the camps and the rest of Darfur. The conflict is escalating …,” they said, calling for the Sudanese government, Darfur rebels and Janjaweed militias to adhere to an immediate ceasefire.

The Elders also urged that the new joint UN-African peacekeeping mission, which was to take over from the current AU force on January 1, be fully equipped and deployed according to schedule.

”To date the international community has not provided the civilian and military equipment and other support necessary to ensure” the force’s success, the report said.

”Existing pledges must be honoured and specialised support provided on an urgent basis,” the report said while calling for the Sudanese government to live up to its commitments and accept that the force will be predominantly African with non-African support. UN officials have accused Sudan of standing in the way of deployment by blocking non-African involvement.

About 20 000 troops and 6 000 police have been pledged, but only 6 500 soldiers will be available initially.

The Elders also called for all parties to participate in the peace process and said they gave their support to talks brokered by the UN and the AU, which opened October in Libya without several prominent rebel leaders.

”Peace and justice are within reach. They cannot be realised unless all parties to the crisis in Darfur are part of its resolution and are fully supported by the international community,” they said. — Sapa-AP