Bankrupt peacekeeping mission leaves Darfur civilians exposed

By Meera Selva Africa Correspondent
Published: 21 January 2006

The humanitarian crisis in Darfur is likely to worsen
after the future of the African Union's peacekeeping
mission was cast into doubt. News that Khartoum is
poised to take over the presidency of the AU has been
greeted with dismay as government-backed militias in
Darfur had been accused of genocide. 

Discussions are under way for the United Nations to
take over the near-bankrupt peacekeeping mission,
while critics of the AU were calling their first
outing a "disastrous failure". The UN secretary
general, Kofi Annan, has said AU forces in Darfur have
been unable to stop the civil war that has raged in
the arid western region for three years, and needs
more funding if it is to carry out its job properly.
Jan Pronk, the UN's special envoy to Darfur, also said
only a robust peacekeeping force with a stronger
mandate could end the violence.

Aid agencies which have operated in Darfur said it was
vital for any peacekeeping force in the region to have
a stronger mandate to act. Oxfam's regional director
Paul Smith-Lomas said: "Overall security [in Darfur]
has rapidly deteriorated since last August. The AU
mission in Sudan urgently requires a strengthened
mandate so that it can respond to this alarming
security situation and protect civilians in Darfur.
The international community must not... take its eye
off the most urgent priority, which is protecting
civilians now."

Rebel agencies in Darfur also welcomed the proposals,
but the Sudanese government said it would not support
any moves by the UN to take control of peacekeeping in
the region.

The Sudanese Foreign Minister, Lam Akol, said: "The AU
has shown competence and its performance in Darfur has
been good. Such a proposal questions the AU's ability
to carry out its mission. It is regrettable that some
African countries support this new trend."

The AU insisted that, as a member, Sudan would have to
comply with any decision to allow a UN deployment, but
Khartoum has insisted it will not allow non-African
peacekeepers inside Darfur.

The AU has long complained that it does not have
enough funding to allow its 7,000 troops in Darfur to
carry out their job effectively. They also say the
Sudanese government has blocked the arrival of vital
supplies. In October, three Nigerian AU soldiers died
in an ambush carried out by the Sudanese Liberation
Army, and other troops have been held hostage.

The proposals come as Sudan launched its attempts to
take control of the AU in the face of strong
opposition from aid agencies and human rights groups.
The 53 AU member states will vote on who should take
the chair of the organisation from Nigeria, at its
summit next week in Khartoum. The Sudanese President,
Umar al-Bashir, is a strong contender but critics have
warned that the AU will lose all credibility to
mediate peace talks to end the conflict in western
Darfur if the organisation is controlled by one of the
participants. The International Criminal Court is
investigating the Sudanese government, militias and
the rebel movements for violations of international

Peter Takirambudde, from the New York-based Human
Rights Watch, said: "It would be highly inappropriate
for the Sudanese government, which is responsible for
war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, to
preside over the AU. The AU's credibility and its
ability to promote and protect human rights, would be
irreparably damaged."

Khartoum has said Nigeria would still host peace talks
on Darfur, even if it is no longer head of the AU. The
talks have collapsed several times as the participants
were unable to agree on matters of protocol. 


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