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Darfur: Insecurity rises, protection of civilians?

As insecurity rises in Darfur, Sudan, Annan urges protection of civilians

Amid rising insecurity contributing to a “dangerous and volatile” situation in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported today that international efforts must focus on the protection of civilians there.

In his monthly update on the situation in Darfur to the Security Council, Mr. Annan says work is underway on a possible transition from the current African Union (AU) mission in Sudan, known as AMIS, to a UN force. “As planning moves forward in consultation with the parties, it will have to take into consideration the ongoing violence and consistent violation of human rights in the region, the displacement of more than 3 million people and increasing instability near the border with Chad,” he says.

International efforts in Darfur should aim to “contribute to the protection of civilians at risk with a view to creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation in a country where human rights are respected and internally displaced persons and refugees can return home in safety and dignity.”

He cautions that success will require the support of the Khartoum Government. “Although the Government of the Sudan is expressing reservations at the moment, we hope to gain its cooperation as we carry out the planning,” Mr. Annan writes. “In fact, Government cooperation will be a requirement, since the Security Council request to start planning for a possible transition stipulates, quite rightly, that we do so in cooperation and in close consultation with the parties to the Abuja peace talks.”

The Secretary-General also warns that without an effective ceasefire, any international security presence in Darfur “will have to be mandated and equipped to take robust action to protect civilians at risk.”

The report points to escalating insecurity, and warns that banditry, armed clashes and tensions along the border with Chad are contributing to a “dangerous and volatile situation” in Darfur.

As the people of Darfur face growing threats to their security, aid workers trying to offer help are also under attack, according to the report. The UN has been forced to restrict the movements of relief workers in parts of Western Darfur and to cut staff levels in the region. Humanitarian and commercial convoys in Southern Darfur were also subjected to banditry.

“In the face of continuing attacks by militias, the police have not provided protection to civilian populations,” Mr. Annan states, citing one incident when police “resorted to an excessive use of force, in one instance resulting in the death of a secondary school student.” Civilians living close to rebel territory and who share the same ethnicity as the rebels are particularly vulnerable to abuse by the Sudanese Armed Forces.

Insecurity in Western Darfur has affected the overall protection situation there, with new forced displacements taking place almost daily, according to the report. Some of the forced displacements are due to inter-tribal conflict, while others are caused by fighting between Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) on the one hand and the Sudanese Armed Forces and militia forces on the other.

The report also points to disturbing indications of sexual violence against children, noting that the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is “following up on five separate cases in Northern and Western Darfur between late November 2005 and January 2006, in which strong evidence has emerged that children under 15 years of age were raped.”

Mr. Annan calls on the parties to urgently work to achieve a negotiated settlement. “It is of utmost importance that everything possible be done to ensure that the parties conclude an agreement during this seventh round of talks” in Abuja, Nigeria, he says.

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