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No time to lose in setting up UN force for Sudan

No time to lose in setting up UN force for Sudan’s Darfur region – Annan

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on the world community to follow up on last week’s peace accord between the Sudanese Government and the main rebel group in Darfur by establishing a muscular UN peacekeeping force and providing immediate aid to prevent hundreds of thousands more people dying.

“There is a vast amount to be done, and no time to lose,” Mr. Annan told a special ministerial meeting of the Security Council called to consider the latest developments what he called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, in which fighting between the Government, pro-government militias and rebels has killed at least 180,000 people and uprooted 2 million more in the last three years.

He said he had already written to Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir seeking his support for a visit by an assessment team to help setting up a UN force and he hoped very soon to be able to discuss it with him directly. “His support for this vital mission is essential,” Mr. Annan added.

Until now Sudan has opposed the establishment of such a force but said it was prepared to discuss UN involvement after the conclusion of a peace accord in the talks in Abuja, Nigeria, where the agreement with the largest rebel force was reached last week.

“No less urgent is the need to raise more money for emergency relief,” Mr. Annan told the 15-member body. “Without massive and immediate support, the humanitarian agencies will be unable to continue their work, which means that hundreds of thousands more will die from hunger, malnutrition and disease.”

A pledging conference will be held, possibly in Brussels, early next month. “But I appeal to donors not to wait for that conference,” he said. “They need to be very generous, starting right now. We cannot afford to lose a single day.”

The main plank in following up the Abuja agreement is the transition from the current 7,000-strong African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to a much larger UN force, though Mr. Annan said the immediate priority must be to strengthen AMIS to implement essential elements of the accord and provide real security for the displaced people.

“But I believe we all now agree that this can only be a stopgap measure, and that as soon as possible AMIS must be transformed into a larger and more mobile United Nations operation, better equipped and with a stronger mandate. We are now mobilizing all our energies to make that happen,” he added.

“Let’s not underestimate the challenge that this implies. Helping to protect the people of Darfur and to implement the Abuja agreement will be one of the biggest tests this Organization has ever faced – perhaps the biggest since those in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia in the early 1990s,” he said. “But it is a challenge we cannot refuse. And, having accepted it, we cannot delay.”

Mr. Annan noted the immediate pitfalls on the way, including the failure of two small rebel movements to sign the Abuja accord and yesterday’s attack in a refugee camp in Darfur in which an AMIS staff member was killed after a visit there by UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland.

Added the Secretary-General, “we must do everything in our power to ensure that those who have signed the agreement actually implement it on the ground, and that the people of Darfur can survive the next few months.”

The Council called on all the parties to respect their commitments and implement the agreement without delay, and urged those movements that have not signed the agreement to do so without delay.

In a statement read out by Foreign Minister Rodolphe Adada of the Republic of Congo, which holds the rotating presidency for May, the Council urged Mr. Annan to provide at the earliest opportunity detailed planning proposals for a UN operation in Darfur and called on the Sudanese Government to facilitate immediately the visit of a joint UN and African Union (AU) technical assessment.

It also asked Mr. Annan to consult urgently with potential troop contributing counties, stressed that a UN operation should have strong African participation and character, and called on international and regional organizations and Member States to afford the operation every possible assistance.

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