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Darfur force: African Union move to extend mandate

UN envoy hails African Union move to extend mandate of Darfur force; issues warning

While welcoming a decision made by the African Union to extend the mandate of its troops in the violence-wracked Darfur region of Sudan for three months to the end of 2006, a senior United Nations envoy warned today that continued militia attacks on internally displaced persons were affecting implementation of the peace agreement agreed in May.

African Union (AU) leaders agreed at their weekend summit to extend the mandate of the 7,000-strong force, which had been due to expire on 30 September. While no agreement was reached with Sudan’s President on allowing UN peacekeepers to take over from the AU force, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sudan Jan Pronk did highlight recent official efforts to disarm the Janjaweed militia in the region.

“While welcoming the recent announcement by the Sudanese Government to present a plan for the disarmament of the Janjaweed militiamen in Darfur, Mr. Pronk warned that continued militia attacks on internally displaced persons in Darfur were hampering implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement,” a UN spokesperson told reporters in New York.

In his latest report to the Security Council on the region, which covers the month of May and which was issued today, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan states that “disarming the Janjaweed, improving civilian protection and strengthening ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanisms are absolute priorities.”

Another “serious concern” he highlights is that the “work of United Nations agencies and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) continues to be hindered by banditry targeting humanitarian personnel and assets.”

Three years of fighting in Darfur between Government forces, pro-government militias and rebels have killed scores of thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million others amid charges of civilian massacre, rape and other atrocities.

In a separate development related to Darfur, a youth spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently returned from visiting camps for internally displaced in the region and emphasized the conflict’s impact on women and children.

“Young people have really been at the centre of this conflict. Children have really been hit harder than anyone else. The camps are 90 per cent women and children. That’s a population of 2 million people now,” said UNICEF spokesperson Ronan Farrow.

In a further development related to Sudan as a whole, Japan has contributed $1.7 million to a new UN inter-agency project to assist the country’s landmine victims and the wider population with an 18-month project that aims among other things to raise awareness of the dangers of landmines and also provide support for victims’ reintegration.

Apart from the conflict still raging in the Darfur region, more than 4 million Sudanese were displaced internally by a decades-long war in the south and, as the latest report to the Security Council on Sudan shows, the problems there are not over.

“It is clear that the legacy of the long conflict in the Sudan runs deep and that the country is still in a healing process,” it states.

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