Friday, January 13, 2006

Annan wants US, Europe to consider force in Darfur

13 Jan 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 (Reuters) - The United Nations is considering a tough mobile force to police Sudan's Darfur region and hopes the United States and European military will help stop the bloodshed, rape and plunder, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday.

But Annan said that first the Sudan government, the 15-member Security Council and the African Union, which has sent the only foreign troops to Darfur, had to agree to a U.N. operation.

"We need to get the (Sudan) government to work with us in bringing in an expanded force with troops from outside Africa, because until recently it has maintained that it will only accept African troops," Annan told reporters. "But I think we have gone beyond that now."

Annan spoke after a lunch with Security Council members where Darfur was the main topic.

"As you know, the killings are going on, the rapes are going on," Annan said. "We have lost access to some of the needy people."

"Obviously the international community cannot allow that situation to go unaddressed, and in all likelihood will have to look at other options, including possibly the U.N. working with the African Union to address the situation. "

He said any new force would have to be a mobile one with tactical air support, helicopters and "the ability to respond very quickly."

Asked if this would include rich countries, like the United States and European nations, Annan said, "Those are the countries with the kind of capabilities we will need, so when the time comes, we will be turning to them."

"We will need very sophisticated equipment, logistical support. I will be turning to governments with capacity to join in that peacekeeping operation if we were to be given the mandate," he said.


According to U.N. officials, the African Union would either stay in place or become part of a U.N. peacekeeping operation. At the moment, the African Union has only enough money to sustain its operation until March, with the U.S. Congress having denied it another $50 million in aid.

Annan said the African Union needed money now "and they need it quickly" because any U.N. takeover would take months.

About 6,000 AU soldiers are trying to stop escalating violence in Darfur, a desert region the size of France, with a mandate to monitor cease-fire violations but limited powers to intervene. A decision on the future of the force will be made at an AU summit on Jan. 23-24, coincidently held in Khartoum.

In the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Thursday, the African Union indicated it might hand over the operation to the world body because of a lack of funds.

"The time has come to make a pronouncement on the future of the AU Mission in Darfur and the ways and means to adapt it to the present challenges, including the hand over to the United Nations at the appropriate time," said a report by the AU Peace and Security Council, obtained by Reuters.

The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when rebels launched an uprising against Khartoum, accusing the government of marginalizing the impoverished area. The government in turn dispatched Arab militias to put down the rebellion, but they have been the main perpetrators of rape, looting and murder.

But Annan said that the rebels now were also attacking people and warned them to take seriously negotiations now being held with the Khartoum government in Abuja, Nigeria.


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