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Marking 'Grim' Darfur Anniversary, Ban Urges Focus

Marking 'grim' anniversary for Darfur, Secretary-General urges sharper focus

4 April 2008 - Avowing that the situation in Sudan's Darfur region remains as grim, or worse, than it was four years ago when the Security Council first took up the issue, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for an immediate focus on the fundamentals of peace and the protection of civilians in the strife-torn region.

"Continued suffering is both unforgivable and preventable, and the potential for peace and progress is great," Mr. Ban said in a statement that coincided with the release of his latest monthly report to the Council on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

"Let us not dwell on what has been lost in Darfur, but call upon all parties and stakeholders to immediately focus on what can be achieved by ending the hostilities, protecting civilians and coming to the negotiating table in good faith to secure the peace the Darfurians desperately need now," he added.

Some 4.27 million civilians, including 2.45 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), continue to suffer as a result of ongoing attacks by armed forces and other groups, the Secretary-General said, with more than 100,000 civilians forced to flee this year alone while women and humanitarian workers continue to be targeted.

The conflict also jeopardizes regional stability and threatens the historic peace agreement that ended one of Africa's longest and bloodiest wars, between the Government and rebels in southern Sudan, he stressed.

He noted that the international community has spent close to $1 billion per year during the past three years on humanitarian assistance and recovery operations in Darfur in the hope that peace and development would follow.

But, he cautioned, humanitarian aid would not resolve the conflict, and neither would the peacekeeping mission, since there was as yet no peace to keep. A solution required all parties and stakeholders to lay down their arms and commit to a peaceful settlement.

"Pressure must be maintained on all parties to commit to a cessation of hostilities and ultimately a ceasefire and political settlement," he said, affirming continued support for joint African Union (AU)-UN mediation efforts and the deployment of UNAMID.

In his report on that deployment, covering the month of February, Mr. Ban says that troop deployment is accelerating, but that critical aviation and transportation equipment was still missing, with no additional pledges for these during the reporting period.

As of the end of the month, the total strength of UNAMD was 9,212 uniformed personnel, including 7,467 troops, 1,605 police officers and one formed police unit, in addition to 1,312 civilians, according to the report.

Deployment of Egyptian and Ethiopian battalions is immanent, after which UNAMID leadership will prioritize the arrival of the Thai and Nepalese units, which are ready to come with critical capabilities.

However, the force still lacks one heavy and one medium ground transport unit, three military utility aviation units - comprising 18 helicopters in total - as well as additional attack helicopters.

"It is incumbent upon Member States to pledge these critical capabilities or prevail upon other States that may be in a position to do so," Mr. Ban stressed, noting that all levels of the UN Secretariat continue to pursue options in that regard.

"The deployment of UNAMID without these critical assets will make it a force that lacks the capability to respond to the challenges and complex environment in which it is deployed," he said.

ENDS

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