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Darfur: UN Troops ASAP, Say Rights Workers

Darfur: UN Troops ASAP, Say Rights Workers

Haider Rizvi
OneWorld US
Wed., Aug. 30, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 (OneWorld) - Amid fears that escalating violence could unleash another round of humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan's Darfur region, rights advocacy groups are urging the world community to take immediate steps to protect civilians.

With the looming threat of fresh military action by the Sudanese army, groups say the deployment of a 20,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Darfur is the first step to enhance security for the civilian population.

"Rape, murder, and forced displacement continue in Darfur," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, "because Russia, China, Qatar, and others have protected Khartoum from tough measures by the Security Council."

"We know the Security Council's attention is focused on Iran and Lebanon," he added in a statement, "but the United States, Britain, and France must step up efforts to ensure that Darfur is a priority also."

Currently, discussions are underway at the 15-member UN Security Council on a U.S.-sponsored draft resolution calling for17,000 well-equipped peacekeepers. However, according to observers and diplomats, any breakthrough before the end of this week is highly unlikely.

The U.S. proposal calls for a gradual transition from the Africa Union (AU) force in Darfur, which has failed to take effective measures against violence, mainly due to lack of resources. The AU mandate is due to expire at the end of September.

For its part, the Sudanese government has strongly objected to the U.S. proposal, arguing that a UN force would be widely unpopular in the region. Khartoum instead has made clear that it would like to send its own troops to Darfur to protect civilians.

But human rights groups say such a move would prove to be a disaster.

"It is a sham," said Kate Gilmore of the London-based rights group Amnesty International. "How can Sudan realistically propose being a peacekeeper in a conflict to which it is a major party and perpetrator of grave human rights violations?"

Human Rights Watch's Takirambudde agreed.

"Sudanese government soldiers are not an alternative to international peacekeepers," he said, adding that any new military operations by government forces or rebels would lead to "devastating consequences for civilians."

However, the Sudanese troops have already started arriving in some parts of northern Darfur, according to Africa Action, a Washington, DC-based independent group, which has accused the Sudanese government of using force against Darfuri refugees who have resettled in the outskirts of Khartoum.

The group claims that as a result of military action by the Sudanese government, many refugees were killed and wounded and as many as 12,000 newly displaced.

"The humanitarian crisis and outright violence has reached a crescendo that demands an international response," the group said in a statement, calling for the immediate deployment of UN troops.

A 2005 Security Council resolution bans offensive flights in Darfur, but according to Amnesty International's observers, the Sudanese government has since dropped bombs on villages in the region. On the other side, the rebels also continue to engage in violent acts, including attacking humanitarian convoys.

Human Rights Watch said if Sudan failed to agree to the deployment of a UN force, then the Security Council must consider applying targeted sanctions against the officials responsible for blocking efforts to protect civilians.

The U.S.-sponsored draft resolution envisions sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freezes, for individuals who block implementation of the Darfur peace deal reached between the government and a former rebel leader some three months ago.

Despite the deal, violence in Darfur has reached a point where, in the words of a senior UN official, "even hope may escape us."

In Darfur "our nightmares have become realities," said Jan Egeland, chief of UN relief operations, in a statement that warned the Security Council of a looming humanitarian disaster in the region.

"Our entire humanitarian operation in Darfur is at risk," he added. "We need immediate action on the political front to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe with massive loss of life."

According to Egeland, if the humanitarian operations were to collapse due to continued violence, "we could see hundreds of thousands of deaths" over a period of weeks, not months.

UN estimates show that in the past two months, hundreds of innocent people in Darfur have been killed, over 50,000 displaced, and more than 200 women and girls raped.

Officials said due to escalating violence, about half a million people across Darfur were unable to receive their food rations last month and it was very likely that they would not have any access to food aid this month either.

Related links
Government Troop Build-Up in Darfur Signals Looming Human Rights Crisis (Amnesty International)
Sep. 9 White House Rally to 'Break the Deadlock on Darfur' (Africa Action)
Discover Worthy Projects to Improve Lives in Sudan (GlobalGiving)
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