Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
December 22, 2004
By Thalif Deen - United Nations
The United Nations is admitting that its policies in Sudan have failed following a rash of new problems, including renewed fighting between government and rebel forces, an escalation of violence against displaced persons and a possible flood of new refugees.
The situation has also been made worse by the withdrawal of a leading humanitarian organisation from the troubled province of Darfur, whose people face the "the world's worst humanitarian crisis," according to U.N. officials.
"Our approach is not working," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters Wednesday as he pleaded for more troops from the international community for peacekeeping in Sudan.
"The situation (in Darfur) is deteriorating, the internally displaced persons are suffering and the African Union (AU) has not been able to put in as many (military) forces as we had hoped, and they need desperate help," he said.
On Tuesday, the London-based humanitarian organisation Save the Children announced plans to withdraw from Darfur after four of its staff members were killed, two in early December and two in October. In a statement issued Wednesday, the organisation said it cannot expose its staff to "unacceptable risks as they go about their humanitarian duties in Darfur."
A spokesman for another major aid agency said it plans to continue working in the region. "Oxfam remains very concerned about the deteriorating security across Darfur, and we are monitoring the situation very closely," Coco McCabe, media-information officer for Oxfam, told IPS.
The agency now has 432 staff members working in Darfur and 80 more working in neighbouring Chad, she added.
"We are fully committed to that. However, the fighting and banditry are major impediments. Since so many of the roads in Darfur are unsafe for travel, our staff members now rely on U.N. helicopters to reach some locations. The insecurity has also delayed the shipment of equipment vital to our work," according to McCabe.
Oxfam is one of the few humanitarian agencies currently working in all three Darfur states (North, South, West) as well as in neighbouring Chad. But its teams have had to withdraw temporarily from a few locations many times because of the fighting and insecurity, McCabe said.
Media reported Wednesday that another aid worker, from the international group Doctors Without Borders, was killed in Darfur on Dec. 17 during fighting between rebels and government troops.
The atrocities in the state -- where tens of thousands of black Africans have been killed and as many as two million displaced -- have been committed by marauding Arab militias called "Janjaweed" ("men on horseback"). The Sudanese government has not only been accused of creating the militias but also of turning a blind eye to their continued killings.
Additionally, a peace accord between the government in Khartoum and rebels in the country's south, which was negotiated after a 20-year civil war, has also come to a standstill due to the crisis in Darfur.
Addressing reporters last week, U.N. Special Representative for Sudan Jan Pronk said a definitive settlement ending the long-running war in the south was "the key to solving a separate crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region."
Pronk said he was "keeping his fingers crossed" in hope the peace talks between the government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-Army will be concluded by year-end. If they are, he added, the U.N. Security Council will meet in the third week of January to deploy 9,000-10,000 U.N. troops to monitor that peace agreement.
With backing from the Security Council, the AU had planned to boost its 4,000-strong protection force in Sudan into a 4,000-strong peacekeeping force mandated to restore law and order in Darfur.
But despite an appeal by Annan for increased funds, equipment and logistical support for the proposed body, the response from the international community has been poor.
"What can the Security Council do, working with the African Union and others, to accelerate the rate of deployment and ensure that we have more troops on the ground to assist?" Annan asked Wednesday.
And what other measures, he asked, "can we take to put pressure on the parties and hold some of them individually accountable, for us to be able to move forward?"
Asked if he was willing to make a second trip to Sudan, Annan said: "I am always willing to travel or go to the locations when I think it will help, as I did last summer."
But in reality, he added, the Security Council has to make a "real re-assessment" of the situation in Darfur as to "whether or not our current approach is working, and what further measures should be taken."
"And I think, that exercise should be done here, not by a trip to the situation on the ground," Annan added.
Faced with strong reservations from China, Russia, Pakistan and Algeria, the 15-member council has failed to punish both the Sudanese government and the militia with tough economic and diplomatic sanctions. All four countries are opposed to sanctions, either for political or commercial reasons.
A move to take Khartoum to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on charges of genocide is being thwarted by the United States.
The administration of U.S. President George W Bush has, from the outset, opposed the ICC on the grounds that U.S. soldiers might one day face trial before the global court.
Annan said that a majority of the Security Council members would want the ICC to play a role against the ethnic killings in Sudan.
"But we also know that the United States has a problem with any referral to the ICC. This is an issue the council will have to find a way around. But I think those who are perpetrating these crimes (of genocide) must not be allowed to get away and impunity must not be allowed to stand," Annan told reporters during his annual year-end press conference on Tuesday.
Asked if there were other alternatives, he said: "I think the proposals on the table (including sanctions) should be looked at very seriously by the council. I think we are at that point now."
The other route would be "to find a way of really getting as many people on the ground as possible, because everybody agrees that the presence of monitors and police and an international presence often dissuade the attacks," said Annan.