Aid worker fears as UN is kept away from Darfur
|The Daily Telegraph, 13 Mars 2006|
Sudan's regime hailed a "major achievement" yesterday as it managed to delay the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers in the war-torn Darfur region for at least six months.
Oxfam gave warning that "millions" of lives could be endangered by this hold-up.
Aid workers in Darfur fear that Sudan's regime has won a free hand to continue a bloody campaign without any hindrance from an effective outside force. At present, the only foreign troops in Darfur, where two million refugees have fled their homes, are deployed by the African Union (AU), an alliance of all 53 countries on the continent.
This ill-equipped and underfunded force of 5,000 soldiers and 2,000 civilians must cover an area more than twice the size of Britain.
Its mandate was due to expire at the end of this month. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, had called for the AU to hand over to a fully-fledged peacekeeping force. This plan would have seen between 12,000 and 20,000 UN troops deployed in Darfur from next month onwards, reaching their full strength by December.
But Sudan denounced this proposal and organised massive demonstrations in Khartoum against the UN.
African foreign ministers meeting in Ethiopia decided to extend the AU's mission in Darfur for another six months until Sept 30.
They agreed "in principle" to allow a UN force after this date. If so, the first peacekeepers will not arrive in Darfur until October and they will only reach full strength in June 2007.
"Further delay is putting the lives of millions of civilians in danger. While the debate drags on the situation in Darfur is getting worse," said Paul Smith-Lomas, Oxfam's regional director.
Three years of civil war may now have claimed 300,000 lives. Thousands more die every month and the population of the refugee camps continues to swell.
Mounting violence is making the delivery of aid increasingly difficult. This has forced the UN's refugee agency to cut its Darfur budget by 44 per cent.
"The people of Darfur urgently require protection from daily threats of violence and harassment. They cannot wait," said Mr Smith-Lomas.
But the Khartoum regime revelled in its diplomatic success. "Sudan scored a major achievement by maintaining the AU's role in Darfur and ensuring that a resolution to the conflict remains within the framework of the AU," said Jamal Ibrahim, the foreign ministry spokesman.
He added that Sudan remained opposed to a UN peacekeeping force even after Sept 30. "It has been agreed that should there be a need for the UN to intervene, its role shall be that of a peace support mission and not a peacekeeping mission," said Mr Ibrahim.
Aid workers in Darfur said that Sudan had managed to discredit the proposed UN force in the eyes of African countries.
"The intense lobbying campaign by the government of Sudan, at home and abroad, managed to portray a UN handover as a colonial venture led by the United States and a threat to national sovereignty and African pride," said one.
Meanwhile, it was reported that Maj-Gen Salah Abdullah Gosh, a key figure in Khartoum's campaign in Darfur, secretly visited London last week for talks with senior British officials.
The Foreign Office admitted it had issued a visa to Gosh, the head of Sudan's National Security agency, the Observer reported.