27 June 2006 To seize the moment of opportunity that the Abuja peace deal offers for ending the suffering in Sudan’s Darfur region, African peacekeeping must immediately be bolstered in anticipation of a “substantial” United Nations force and dialogue must start quickly between the local parties, the world body’s top peacekeeping official said today.
“The situation in Darfur remains very fragile – there is an agreement and that’s a major achievement – but it’s an agreement that opens a window, and that’s a window that needs to be seized,” Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations told the press after briefing the Security Council on the results of his recent assessment mission to Sudan.
For the immediate strengthening of the African Union mission, an 18 July international pledging conference will be crucial, he said, while there must be political progress at the same time through the Darfur/Darfur dialogue between the parties on the ground, which is called for in the Abuja agreement, Mr. Guéhenno said.
In view of the fragility of the situation, he said that “it would be wise” to have, by January 2007, a substantial UN force on the ground, perhaps consisting of some three brigades of three to five battalions each.
A solid military presence in Western Darfur could also address the situation in Chad, he added, where there are allegations by both countries of cross-border incursions along a 900 kilometre-long border in a situation that is growing increasingly worrisome.
Since the 5 May Abuja agreement there has been a decline in violence in much of Darfur, except for the western region where there is factional fighting and an actual deterioration of security, he said.
The big question still remains whether the Sudanese Government in Khartoum, which has so far balked at the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission, will agree to it, Mr. Guéhenno said.
Addressing that issue in a separate press encounter, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he, along with African officials, would be engaging Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir on the matter at a meeting sponsored by the African Union (AU) on 1 July.
He said he had also appealed to Security Council members to bring their collective and individual pressure to bear not just on the Sudanese Government to support the deployment, but also on the rebels that are outside the agreement to sign it, and on all parties to implement the pact in good faith.
Asked how he could expect a turnaround from Sudan when President Al-Bashir has already pledged in front of his parliament that he would never allow a UN peacekeeping force, he replied: “In politics, words like ‘never’ and ‘forever’ do not exist. We have seen leaders say lots of things, but they also find reasons and ways to adapt, to shift, to change direction, and often forget that they have used the word ‘never.’”