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Annan seeks replacing African force in Darfur with UN peacekeepers

Written by: Staff
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United Nations, May 16 (UNI) UN officials mobilised to press for a robust peacekeeping force and a speedy disbursement of humanitarian funds to back up a peace accord signed nearly two weeks ago between the Sudanese government and a major rebel group in the western Darfur region of Africa.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Sudan Jan Pronk yesterday took part in a ministerial meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to examine the current mandate and the future of the AU protection force currently deployed in Darfur.

Mr Annan has already written to President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir seeking his support for a strong UN peacekeeping force to replace the 7,000-strong AU mission deployed in Darfur, where fighting between the government, pro-government militias and rebels has killed thousands of people and uprooted 2 million more in the last three years.

The Sudanese Government has opposed such a force but said it was prepared to discuss UN involvement after the conclusion of a peace accord in the talks in the Nigerian city of Abuja, where the agreement with the largest rebel force was reached earlier this month.

In an opinion piece appearing in yesterday's Financial Times, Mr Annan reiterated that there was little time to lose.

''As soon as possible AMIS (the AU mission) must be transformed into a larger and more mobile UN operation, better equipped and with a stronger mandate,'' he wrote. ''No less urgent is the need to raise more money for emergency relief. Right now the region is facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Without massive and immediate support, relief agencies will be unable to continue their work and hundreds of thousands more people will die from hunger, malnutrition and disease.'' UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said in Geneva, the period over the coming months was an ''absolutely critical window of opportunity'' for the international community to respond to such humanitarian crises as in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Fresh from a visit to Darfur last week, he told a news conference in Geneva that without proper humanitarian funding these countries risked falling back ''into the abyss.'' Contrary to what had been reported, he said the Sudanese government had not yet agreed to a UN force and at present was mulling over the proposal. When and if the host country's approval comes, it would take up to six months or more to get the force fully operational.

Also, he said it was absolutely essential that the AU mission receive a more robust mandate to protect the civilian population and humanitarian workers and that its force be at least double the 7,000 personnel authorized at present.

He noted that the Abuja agreement could mean Sudan would get a peace process following last year's peace agreement between the government and rebels which ended two decades of civil war in the south of the vast country. It could open the doors to the return of nearly 2 million internally displaced persons.

In both the Sudan and the DRC, funding has been an acute problem this year, he said. With new funding from the European Union and the United States, it was possible that food cuts could be averted.

UNI XC SB RN1515

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