SUDAN: Ban to push for peace in Darfur

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The visit to Sudan by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will focus on the search for lasting peace in the Darfur region and encourage progress on the north-south peace deal, a senior humanitarian worker said.

Ban arrived in Sudan on 3 September on the first leg of a six-day trip that will also take him to several other African countries. "I want to create the foundations of a lasting peace and security. My goal is to lock in the progress we have made so far; to build on it so that this terrible trauma may one day cease," Ban told reporters on the eve of his visit.

The trip comes amid renewed violence in the region, expulsion by Sudanese authorities of a high-profile humanitarian official and reports of rising malnutrition and increasing attacks on aid workers, which has put about 500,000 hungry people out of reach.

"We hope that this visit will improve protection and security for civilian operations in Darfur and [encourage] commitment on the part of the government of Sudan to the implementation of the joint communiqué both in spirit and action," UN acting resident humanitarian coordinator, Oluseyi Bajulaiye, told IRIN.

The UN plans to deploy a joint UN-African Union force of 26,000 troops and police to replace the under-funded and ill-equipped AU contingent that has failed to stop the violence raging on in the region.

"I want to go and see for myself the very difficult conditions under which our forces will operate ... I want to know first-hand the plight of those they seek to help," Ban said.

He is scheduled to travel to Darfur on 5 September and visit a camp for persons displaced by more than four-and-a-half years of conflict.

Displaced numbers increase

Recent surveys by UN agencies and NGOs indicate an emergency threshold of 15 percent of the population suffering from malnutrition had reached 17 percent in certain areas, the UN deputy emergency relief coordinator, Margareta Wahlström, said on 31 August.

The situation has been made worse by increasing attacks against humanitarians in recent months. "Aid workers are withdrawing temporarily or permanently from certain areas because it is impossible to work there," Wahlström said.

According to the UN, 55,000 people were newly displaced in the region between June and 21 August, bringing the total number of those fleeing their homes since January to 250,000. Out of a total population in Darfur of 6.4 million, 2.2 million are displaced while four million are dependent on humanitarian assistance.

There are more than 12,000 aid workers in Darfur but 12 were killed across the region in 2006 and five since the beginning of this year, according to a recent UN report.

Large numbers of humanitarian vehicles were also taken, it said, adding that hijackings have become more brutal. Some 97 staff members were also temporarily abducted.

On 27 August, Sudan expelled Paul Barker, the director of the US-based charity, CARE, for allegedly interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

Ban said he would raise the issue of Barker’s expulsion during his meetings with Sudanese leaders.


"I am also concerned about the Sudanese government asking those envoys and NGO workers - humanitarian workers - to leave their country and so, in other words, expelling those people from Sudan," he said.

"We have raised this issue ... conveyed our strong concerns to the Sudanese government to implement genuinely the humanitarian Joint Communiqué which was signed between the UN and the Sudanese government to help those humanitarian workers, so that they can engage themselves without any interference," Ban added. "This is what I am going to raise with President [Omar el] Bashir."

He also expressed concern about the recent upsurge in violence in the region, including an attack by Darfur rebels in northern Kordofan and reports about government bombardments in South Darfur, which led to new displacements.

"I am deeply concerned about the recent escalation in violence in Darfur that has caused the death of hundreds of people in the last few weeks alone," the UN chief said. "I appeal to the government of Sudan and to all parties to refrain from military action and choose ... the path of peace and political dialogue."

Recently, the UN Darfur envoy Jan Eliasson and his AU counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim hosted Darfur rebel factions in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha in an effort to agree a common negotiating position with the government.

However, a key rebel leader, Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nour, boycotted the talks.

"I hope that leaders who have chosen not to participate in this political process, particularly Abdul Wahid, should participate in forthcoming political negotiations for the better future of the whole Sudanese and Darfurian people," said Ban. "My aim is to keep up the momentum, to push the pace among the parties with a view towards issuing invitations to a full-fledged peace conference by the end of summer."

Source: IRIN