Sudan: U.S. looks to envoys' visit to help break Darfur stalemate

Acting U.S. ambassador cites Security Council "frustration" over impasse

By Judy Aita, USINFO United Nations Correspondent

United Nations - Frustrated with the lack of progress in getting a U.N. peacekeeping mission into the troubled Darfur region of Sudan, Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Alejandro Wolff says that the Security Council is looking to the upcoming visit of international envoys to break the stalemate with the Sudanese government.

The Security Council met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon February 6 to discuss the inability of the United Nations and the African Union to get Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to agree to a 20,000-strong hybrid United Nations/African Union (AU) peacekeeping force. Ban just returned from attending the AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he met with the Sudanese leader.

Ban announced that U.N. Special Envoy Jan Eliasson and AU Special Envoy Salim Ahmed Salim will visit Sudan's capital, Khartoum, and Darfur February 11-17. Ban will return to the council after those visits to discuss the next steps based on the envoys' recommendations.

Ban said he told Bashir he wanted a speedy deployment of the so-called phase three of the hybrid force. The secretary-general said he hopes the political process will be "re-energized" by the envoys' visit.

Nevertheless, Wolff said that he felt "a general sense of frustration" from the 15-nation Security Council.

"We have been dealing with this for many, many months," Wolff said after the closed-door Security Council meeting. "We continue to find ourselves stymied by questions and stalling tactics on the part of Sudan government."

Wolff pointed out that the United Nations and African Union have devised a three-phase process that Bashir agreed to in December 2006, but the Sudanese president continues to delay its implementation with questions.

The United Nations has deployed about 25 military staff officers and 20 police advisers as part of a "light support package" for the thinly stretched African Union Mission in Darfur where more than 200,000 people have been killed since 2003 and more than 2 million have been displaced by fighting between government and rebel groups.

Under a $21 million light support package, the United Nations is to provide 105 military staff officers, 33 police advisers and 48 civilian staff as well as equipment and supplies to the AU peacekeepers. Phase three of the plan will establish a hybrid AU-U.N. force of 17,000 troops and 3,000 police advisers.

The secretary-general told the Security Council he is committed to making Darfur a top priority and to working with the AU to come up with a coordinated approach so the United Nations is ready to deploy when the AU mandate expires in June, Wolff said.

The Security Council "will reinforce our commitment to see this issue dealt with" through diplomatic means, the ambassador said.

"There is a sense of frustration and coalescence within the council that the time is running out and we need to move forward," Wolff said.

When he took office, Ban said he intended to be "directly and personally engaged" on Darfur.

According to his spokesperson, Michele Montas, Ban told the Security Council February 6 that "no more time can be lost. The people of Darfur have waited for far too long."

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