Sudan: Groups stress urgency of Darfur peacekeeping deployment

Haider Rizvi, OneWorld US

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 (OneWorld) - Amid lingering doubts about Sudan's promises to cooperate with the world community, advocacy groups are reiterating calls for the immediate deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in the war-torn Darfur region.

"The UN Security Council must put the deployment (of peacekeeping forces) on a fast track," said Nii Akuetteh, executive director of Africa Action, a Washington, DC-based organization that lobbies U.S. lawmakers on African development issues.

The demand for swift UN action comes in the aftermath of the Sudanese government's announcement Wednesday that it was willing to accept the latest plan for deployment of a joint UN-African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Africa Action stressed that the United States and other members of the UN Security Council must ensure that no more delays be allowed to prevent the immediate provision of a peacekeeping force to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in Darfur.

On Sunday, one of the largest international aid groups announced that security concerns are forcing it to permanently close operations in Darfur's largest camp for displaced people.

Six months after an attack in which a female aid worker was raped and other aid workers were subjected to mock executions, Oxfam International said it has not received credible assurances that similar attacks would not take place if the group restarted its efforts at the Gereida camp, which is home to more than 130,000 people.

None of the perpetrators of the attack and robbery have been held to account, said Caroline Nursey, Oxfam's Sudan Program Manager.

The group had been helping those living at the camp to gain access to clean water and sanitation facilities as well as providing health education and livelihood consultation services.

"As usual in Darfur, the people who will suffer most are the civilians who have already been attacked, forced from their homes, and had their lives thrown into turmoil. For the last six months they have not had the level of assistance that they need," she added.

Two months ago, Sudan had agreed to a peacekeeping plan that would include accepting a small UN force of 3,000 policemen, but that part of the plan never materialized. Under the new agreement, the UN and AU are expected to deploy some 17,000 to 19,000 troops.

Sudan's announcement Wednesday followed long and complex negotiations in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Welcoming the Sudanese decision, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called the agreement "a milestone development" that should be appreciated.

Though apparently willing to accept the UN forces in Darfur, the Sudanese government has insisted that the vast majority of the troops must be Africans, a point that has raised doubts about Khartoum's real intentions.

According to the agreement, non-African troops can only be solicited if African countries cannot meet the required numbers. Currently, some 7,000 AU troops are struggling to contain the ongoing violence in Darfur.

Africa Action lashed out at the Sudanese government for imposing "too many" conditions in the deployment of the peacekeeping force, which, diplomats say, may take several months to be put together.

"Such hagglings and delays are unconscionable, causing more deaths and prolonged suffering among millions of innocent Sudanese in Darfur," said Africa Action's Akuetteh.

In Darfur, more than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2 million others displaced since 2003 when the armed conflict began between rebel groups from ethnic African tribes and Khartoum-backed Janjaweed militias.

Last September, the Security Council voted to send 20,000 UN peacekeepers to the region, but failed to implement its decision due to fierce opposition from the Sudanese government.

The resolution, which was not endorsed by Security Council members Russia, China, or Qatar, could not be applied because it required the consent of the Sudanese government for the deployment of the UN force.

In rejecting the resolution, Sudanese officials argued at the time that they could address the issue of civilian protection by using their own military might in the region.

The United States, which accuses Sudan of committing genocide in Darfur, has tried hard to persuade the Security Council to impose sanctions against Khartoum, but failed in its efforts due to strong opposition from Russia and China.

Observers say both Russia and China opposed sanctions against Sudan because they did not want to damage their commercial relations with the oil-rich nation.

Elaborating on the new deal with Sudan, Jean-Marie Guehenno, the top UN peacekeeping official, told reporters last week that any deployment of forces "has to be based on a political agreement, where all the key actors are on board that with deployment."

Guehenno said the upcoming rainy season was "not going to make things easy" for the timing of the deployment, but added, "still we would want to deploy the heavy support package in the coming months."

As part of the ongoing efforts for peace in Darfur, a delegation of the Security Council was due to arrive in Khartoum this weekend, where it will hold further talks with the Sudanese leadership.