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New Joint UN-AU Mediator For Darfur Conflict

New joint UN-African Union mediator for Darfur conflict appointed

30 June 2008 - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the African Union Chairperson today appointed an experienced official from Burkina Faso as the new joint AU-UN Chief Mediator for Darfur as they seek new momentum in their efforts to resolve the five-year conflict.

Djibril Yipènè Bassolé, who has been Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso since 2007, will conduct the mediation efforts in the new post on a full-time basis from El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state and the headquarters of the hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force to the region (UNAMID).

The current UN and AU Special Envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, will remain available for advice and engagement as required, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told journalists.

Mr. Bassolé, 51, has extensive experience in mediation process and in multilateral diplomacy, Ms. Montas said.

Between 2000 and 2007 he served as Security Minister in Burkina Faso and played a key role in devising last year's Ouagadougou Agreement, which Côte d'Ivoire's President Laurent Gbagbo and the rebel Forces Nouvelles leader (and now Prime Minister) Guillaume Soro signed to resolve their conflict.

Mr. Bassolé also worked as a member of the mediation committee for the Tuareg conflict in Niger in 1994-95 and was a member of the international committee for the monitoring of elections in Togo in 1993-94.

The appointment comes as Mr. Eliasson and Mr. Salim warned just last week that there is reason to seriously question whether the parties to the conflict are ready to negotiate and make the compromises necessary for an accord to end the fighting that has raged between rebels, Government forces and allied militiamen known as the Janjaweed.

An estimated 300,000 have been killed in Darfur since 2003, either through direct combat or disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy, while another 2.7 million people have been displaced from their homes.

Insecurity and unrest continue to plague Darfur, an arid and impoverished region on Sudan's western flank, and attempts to broker a peace deal have also been hampered by the splintering of the many rebel movements.

Armed members of one of those groups, the Minni Minawi faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), held 38 UNAMID peacekeepers hostage at gunpoint for more than five hours today.

The incident began this morning at the Zam Zam camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North Darfur, when 21 UN police advisers, 12 military protection force members and five language assistants were confronted by SLA/M commanders carrying AK-47 rifles, hand grenades and other weapons as they tried to conduct a patrol of the camp.

The rebel soldiers surrounded the UNAMID staff and demanded money, claiming it was in compensation for an injured member involved in a motorcycle accident last week with a UNAMID vehicle. The accident is being investigated by both the Sudanese Government and the mission's military police.

After UNAMID reinforcements were sent to the camp, the patrol group was finally released following negotiations between the mission and the leadership of the SLA/M.

UNAMID's deputy head of mission Henry Anyidoho said the detention of the mission staff could not be justified.

"We condemn the attack and we condemn restrictions over the movements of peacekeepers," he said. "Protection of civilians and bringing peace to Darfur define the main purpose of UNAMID's mandate. We must be allowed to carry out our mandate without harassment."

Mr. Anyidoho stressed that in the case of the traffic accident involving the motorcyclist, legal procedure must be respected.

"We respect the law of the land and, in the same vein, we do not condone any party taking the law into its own hands."

This is the second time in less than three months that SLA/M members have targeted UNAMID peacekeepers at Zam Zam. On 9 April a police adviser was beaten and two vehicles were hijacked.

ENDS

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