Six-month delay for UN Darfur force
|The Guardian, 11 Mai 2006|
Urgent planning for the deployment of a large-scale UN peacekeeping force in Darfur is being blocked by Sudan and there will be a minimum six-months delay before the force arrives in the country, British and UN officials said yesterday.
The hold-up comes amid escalating concern about the plight of 3 million people in Darfur who depend on international aid to survive. The world food programme has cut food rations in half due to a shortfall in donor funds. Access to aid continues to be hampered by insecurity, including attacks on relief workers.
"There is a vast amount to be done and no time to lose," Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, told the security council on Tuesday night while urging a rapid UN deployment in Darfur. "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."
Mr Annan said Darfur was potentially the council's biggest test since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Jan Egeland, the UN's emergency relief coordinator, said recently that humanitarian access was the worst it had been since the spring of 2004. "The world's largest aid effort now hangs in the balance ... If we are to avoid an imminent, massive loss of life, we need immediate action," he said. The US announced an additional $225m (£120.6m) in emergency aid this week and urged other countries to follow suit. An international pledging conference is being organised for next month.
More than 200,000 people are believed to have died in Darfur during three years of conflict between government-backed militias and rebel groups. Two million people have been displaced, including 200,000 who fled into neighbouring Chad. A peace accord between the government and some rebel groups in Abuja, Nigeria last week has raised hopes of an end to the violence.
Mr Annan said he had written to Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, Sudan's president, asking that a UN assessment team be allowed into the country to begin preparations. He said he had so far been unable to talk to Mr Bashir in person.
Lord Triesman, minister for Africa at the Foreign Office, said he believed the problem would be resolved in the next few days. "The UN has not yet got its experts in to work out what the best size for the deployment is," he said. "That exercise is vital to get things right not just on the numbers front but where and how, and they are pressing urgently to do that."
Sudan has previously opposed the replacement of the current African Union peackeeping mission by a UN force. After last week's peace accord, it said it might reconsider.
Lord Triesman said international pressure on Sudan to facilitate the deployment would be reinforced by a security council resolution, expected this week. The UN force could comprise as many as 15,000 troops, mainly from African countries, but discussions were only just beginning with potential contributing countries, he said, and depended in part on whether soldiers could be transferred from other missions. That meant there would be a delay of at least six months before UN forces arrived.
He would not be drawn on whether US, British or other European troops would join the UN force. "In Khartoum there are certainly significant numbers of people who say they do not want to see white faces involved in this," he said.