UNITED NATIONS, May 6: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pressed Sudan's government to quickly let UN planners begin preparing for a peacekeeping mission in Darfur after the signing of a long-delayed peace agreement.
Welcoming the accord reached in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, between Khartoum and the main Darfur rebel group, Annan yesterday said the international community had to ''really move very quickly to have the right impact on the ground.'' The Khartoum government has opposed inviting in UN troops, saying it would consider that only after a peace deal was reached. It has refused even to let in a UN planning team to assess needs on the ground.
''Now is the time for them to allow the assessment mission to go in, for us to move expeditiously, and I do intend to be in touch with the Sudanese authorities precisely on this point,'' Annan told reporters.
An African Union force that now numbers about 7,000 peacekeepers has been enforcing a shaky cease-fire since 2004 in the three-year civil war in Sudan's western Darfur region.
But the AU says all sides have continued fighting and the West hopes a larger and better-equipped UN force can take over from the Africans later this year.
Sudan's deputy UN ambassador, Omar Manis, could not say whether Khartoum would now welcome the U.N. team, and ultimately a UN peacekeeping force..
''As an ambassador, I am not in a position to say yes or no,'' Manis said.
The deal signed yesterday caps two years of AU-led talks.
The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, pitted rebels from mostly non-Arab tribes against mainly Arab militias backed by the government. A campaign of arson, looting and rape has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and the United States calls the violence there genocide.
While the main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, signed the deal, two smaller factions refused, and Annan urged both to reverse course and end ''this tragic chapter in the history of Sudan.'' Annan also noted international donors had pledged just 20 per cent of the 648 million dollars in humanitarian aid for Darfur and urged individuals and corporations to chip in, as they did after the December 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami.
''All hands on deck and whoever can make a contribution, we would urge them to do it,'' he said.