Sudan: Darfur meeting ends without concrete action
PARIS, June 25 (Reuters) - An international meeting on Darfur ended on Monday with promises to support peacekeeping efforts and a political process to stop the violence in western Sudan, but with few concrete steps.
The nations at the conference, which included major aid donors, the Group of Eight industrialised nations and Sudan's ally China, offered few details of exactly how they hoped to end a conflict that has dragged on for more than four years.
France had said the meeting was aimed at backing a U.N.-African Union peacemaking effort, offering political support to those trying to bring together splintered rebel groups, and providing funds for a "hybrid" U.N.-AU force due to take over from 7,000 beleaguered AU peacekeepers.
Sudan itself was not invited, and the African Union declined to send a delegation.
"We really must redouble our efforts, and I think that that was the spirit of today's conference," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters.
She said Sudan must live up to its promise to accept the "hybrid" force of more than 20,000 United Nations and African Union peacekeepers, and accused the government in Khartoum of having repeatedly broken promises to end the violence.
Rice also said Sudan must face "consequences" -- code for new U.N. sanctions -- if it failed to allow the force in.
The aim of the new force is to stop the violence in Darfur, where international experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been expelled from their homes in more than four years of strife. Sudan says 9,000 people have died.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who convened the conference, stressed the importance of finding a political solution, and backed an U.N.-AU initiative that aims to have all parties to the dispute ready to begin talks around August.
China, which buys oil from Sudan and has been loath to press it in public over Darfur, said Khartoum was ready to take part.
"I met with (Sudanese President Omar Hassan) al-Bashir in Sudan. He told me that the Sudanese government actually is ready to come to the negotiating table, at any time, in any place," China's special envoy Liu Guijin told reporters.
Despite the absence of specific action from the meeting, U.N. special envoy Jan Eliasson said it had been useful to coordinate efforts among the many players.
"There has been a long period now of sometimes competing initiatives. Now there was general agreement that we should have a convergence of initiatives," he told reporters.
The Darfur problem dates to early 2003, when non-Arab rebels took up arms, accusing the government of ignoring their plight in the remote, arid region. Sudan mobilised Arab militias to quell the revolt.
Some militia members, known locally as Janjaweed, embarked on a campaign of killing, pillage and rape. Sudan denies it supported the Janjaweed, and calls them outlaws.
Rebels in Darfur, who have split into more than a dozen groups since a 2006 peace deal signed by only one of three rebel factions, have been blamed in recent months for attacks on civilians, including aid workers.
France has shown greater interest in Darfur since President Nicolas Sarkozy took office this year, and has proposed sending an international force to neighbouring Chad to provide stability for refugee camps for thousands who have fled Darfur.
"As human beings, and as politicians, we must resolve the crisis in Darfur," Sarkozy told the officials at the meeting,
"Silence kills," he added. "We want to mobilise the international community to say 'enough is enough'."
Sarkozy also stressed the importance of supporting the existing AU force through financial contributions.
He said France was willing to contribute roughly 10 million euros ($13.5 million). The European Union also pledged an extra 31 million euros of humanitarian funds for "the coming months".