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Darfur parties must avoid slipping back into chaos

Annan calls on Darfur parties to avoid slipping back into chaos

With more violent clashes recorded last month in western Sudan’s Darfur region, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling on all parties there to reach a negotiated settlement at their talks in Nigeria’s capital while cautioning against the conflict’s spread across the border with Chad.

“Tragically, another year has come to an end without a major breakthrough in efforts to resolve the crisis in Darfur. December witnessed more violent clashes involving the Government, militia and rebel groups, as well as banditry and intertribal fighting,” he says in his monthly report to the UN Security Council. “I call on the parties to the conflict in the strongest terms to respect their agreements, including on the ceasefire, and the provisions of international humanitarian law.”

Since the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council has expressed its support, in principle, for a transfer of peacekeeping from the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in Darfur, the UN will work closely with the AU and all other stakeholders to take the matter forward, he says.

“The transition itself will be a very difficult and costly exercise and will also require extensive logistical, human and financial resources,” he says, adding that AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré and he have agreed to hold a pledging conference for AMIS later this month.

While all efforts should be made to reach a comprehensive settlement in Abuja, Nigeria, at the earliest possible moment, it is clear that international involvement in Darfur will only grow more challenging, he says.

“Volatility, enormous logistical constraints and a punishing environment will require that any future international presence in Darfur is enhanced, multifaceted, robust, mobile and in place for as long as required to see peace take root. The support requirements for such a presence would also be enormous,” Mr. Annan says.

The risk that trans-border tribal ties could internationalize the conflict in Darfur, long a matter of concern, has become all the more real since the defection of ethnic Zaghawa soldiers from the Chadian army, some of whom are now allegedly based in Darfur, according to the report.

Members of the Zaghawa ethnic group in the Shearia area of South Darfur have been subjected to rights abuses by ethnic Birgits with the involvement of the military, Mr. Annan says. Documented violations include targeted beatings, systematic looting and the closure of schools. Those actions have resulted in 2,500 Zaghawa being forcibly displaced from the town into the AMIS base and into neighbouring villages.

“It is vitally important that the situation in the border areas of Chad and the conflicts in the Sudan do not combine to propel the two countries and the whole region towards confrontation and conflict,” he stresses. “With mutual accusations and the increased concentration of troops on both sides of the border, the potential for an open confrontation between the two countries cannot be minimized.”

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