Sudan may be gearing up for major offensive in Darfur, UN peacekeeping official warns

Hedi Annabi

17 August 2006 – The Sudanese Government seems to be determined to pursue a major military offensive in strife-torn Darfur, building up its armed forces in the region as the situation there deteriorates, the Security Council heard today.

In a closed-door briefing, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi also warned the Council that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has reiterated his opposition to a United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur and vowed that the Sudanese armed forces would fight any UN force dispatched to the region.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York that Mr. Annabi urged the Council to consider re-engaging Khartoum directly for a final discussion on the question of whether it would agree to a UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur.

Mr. Annabi noted that the security situation in Darfur, a region roughly the size of France on Sudan’s remote western border with Chad, has worsened since the last such briefing to the Council in June.

There has been an unprecedented level of attacks against humanitarian workers, with Mr. Annabi stating that some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have indicated they may be forced to withdraw entirely from North Darfur, one of three states which comprise the region.

The implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), signed in May, is not going well either, the Assistant Secretary-General added, noting there have been violations of its provisions by both signatories and non-signatories.

The President of the Security Council, Ambassador Nana Effah-Apenteng, told reporters following the meeting that a draft resolution had been introduced on Sudan. “We are looking at the possibility of bringing all the major players to a meeting here, the League of Arab States, the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference), the African Union and a representative of the Sudanese Government,” he said, adding that the first two had already accepted.

Last week Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote to the Council to express alarm about the situation in Darfur, especially after the wave of attacks against humanitarian workers – in July there were 36 reported incidents that led to nine deaths.

The increased fighting and the attacks against aid workers means it is harder for those who remain to direct humanitarian assistance to those in need. As many as 1.6 million people were now inaccessible, Mr. Annan said in his letter.

On Wednesday, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that funding shortages could force cuts to the rations now going to 6 million people in Darfur and warned that this would lead to nutritional degradation.

Mr. Annabi’s bleak assessment to the Council comes as Sima Samar, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan, voiced concern following a visit to the region about the lack of justice for victims of violent crimes.

Ms. Samar told a press conference in Khartoum that “there is not only a lack of prevention and protection, but also a lack of justice for the crimes that are committed – whether it is killing of civilians, rape, looting or destruction of property. Where impunity is allowed to prevail, protection will remain elusive.”

She called on the Sudanese Government to urgently disarm the militias operating in Darfur and to strengthen the criminal justice system there – especially by ensuring it has adequate resources to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses.

Ms. Samar stressed that, during recent clashes in Darfur, “there is a clear failure to differentiate between combatants and the civilian population.”

Scores of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million others have been displaced since conflict erupted in 2003 between rebels, Government forces and allied militia groups in Darfur.

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