Three semi-related stories:
Amid reports of a growing government offensive against rebel-held areas in Darfur, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a host of international human rights and humanitarian groups are calling on Sudan to permit U.N. peacekeepers to deploy urgently to the violence-torn region.
Annan, who has spoken out with increasing urgency against Khartoum's opposition to the deployment since the U.N. Security Council approved it late last month, raised the spectre of a repetition of the 1994 Rwandan genocide if the government does not permit as many as 20,500 U.N. peacekeepers to replace a largely ineffective African Union (AU) force whose mandate expires at the end of this month.
"Everyone said we should not let it happen again," he said at a press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York City. "If the African Union forces were to leave, and we are not able to put in a U.N. follow-on force, we are heading for a disaster, and I don't think we can allow that to happen, particularly since we only recently passed the 'Responsibility to Protect' resolution."
He was referring to a resolution approved by the U.N. summit in 2005 that called for the Security Council to take decisive action to protect civilians from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity if the relevant national authorities fail to do so.
As Annan was speaking, 18 human rights and humanitarian groups, including Amnesty International [USA], Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights, issued a joint appeal for the international community "to significantly intensify diplomatic efforts with the Government of Sudan while concurrently planning for the rapid deployment of an adequately funded and well-equipped U.N. force to protect the people of Darfur regardless of the acquiescence of the Sudanese government."
The appeals came amid reports from the region that Khartoum has launched a new military offensive that has so far featured bombing by warplanes and helicopter gunships, as well as attacks by government-backed militias, against villages and camps suspected of supporting rebel groups that rejected the Darfur Peace Accord (DPA) signed by the government and one rebel faction in Abuja, Nigeria, last May.
That accord, which was strongly supported by the U.N., the United States, the European Union and the AU, was supposed to put an end to three years of violence perpetrated mainly by government forces and government-backed Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, against Darfur's African population.
Between 200,000 and 500,000 people are believed to have died in what the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, as well as a number of human rights groups, have called "genocide".
More than two million people -- the vast majority members of African ethnic groups -- were forced to flee their homes and have been unable to return due to the reigning insecurity.
Indeed, since the DPA took effect, violence and insecurity, particularly in northern Darfur, have actually increased, according to the U.N., as the rebel faction that signed it subsequently turned on its former comrades in a new round of bloodletting that has forced many humanitarian and aid groups that were providing health care, food and other relief supplies to the displaced to withdraw their personnel, setting the stage for what Annan, in an unusually passionate presentation to the Security Council [on] Monday, called "a new calamity".
"Millions of people are already at grave risk," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned Friday. "Hundreds are still dying and thousands are still being forcibly displaced."
The fear now is that the 7,000-troop AU force will begin their own withdrawal, leaving a vacuum that will be quickly filled by some 23,000 Sudanese soldiers who have been mustering at El-Fasher over the past month in anticipation of a major new offensive campaign to effectively crush the rebels, who have reportedly been supported by Chad and Eritrea.
For its part, the government of President Omar Bashir has consistently rejected the deployment of the U.N. peacekeepers, who, unlike the 7,000 AU troops and police, would have a much stronger mandate to protect themselves and the civilian population, as a "neo-colonialist" scheme that would violate the country's sovereignty.
He has also suggested that that Sudan was willing to permit the AU force to remain in Darfur, provided that it was financed by the Arab League and Sudan. The AU, which formally asked the U.N. to take its place, has dismissed this idea.
With time running out, the diplomatic pace has picked up. Before the Security Council vote last month, Washington sent its top Africa aide, Jendayi Frazer, to Khartoum, reportedly to offer Bashir a meeting with President George W. Bush, among other incentives, if he agreed to the U.N. deployment. Bashir, however, kept her waiting three days before granting her an audience and then rejected the offer.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met here with Sudan's foreign minister, Lam Akol, to, in her words, urge Sudan "in the strongest possible terms" to accept the force. "I won't say that we made progress," she said after the meeting.
Activist groups have been calling on the Bush administration for many months to press the Security Council for stiff sanctions against Khartoum, including financial and diplomatic sanctions against key leaders implicated in the violence in Darfur, if it fails to comply with previous resolutions, including several that demanded the disarmament of the Janjaweed.
But the administration has been reluctant to exert strong pressure on Russia and China, which have opposed sanctions, over Darfur due to the much higher priority it has attached to gaining their support in its growing confrontation with Iran. Both China and Russia, along with Qatar, abstained on the resolution that authorised deployment of the U.N. force -- a fact that has no doubt contributed to Khartoum's defiance.
The administration's reticence has increasingly frustrated activists, which, in addition to the human rights groups, have also included Africa advocates, such as Africa Action, Jewish and Christian groups, and even staunch Republicans.
In a column published by the Washington Post over the weekend, Sen. John McCain, considered a major contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, and former Sen. Bob Dole, the Republican candidate defeated by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, called for the U.S. and the EU to immediately impose financial sanctions against Sudan's leadership; for NATO to enforce a "no-fly zone" over Darfur to halt its bombing raids; and for the U.S. and its allies to step up satellite surveillance of Darfur to record any atrocities by Khartoum's forces for eventual prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
They also called for the U.S. to intensify its pressure on its diplomatic partners to commit troops and funds to a U.N. force and on the U.N. to prepare contingency plans "for the force to enter (Darfur) without Sudanese consent."
From the CBC...
The troubled region of Darfur is heading for "disaster" unless the Sudanese government can be convinced to allow UN peacekeeping troops to enter, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Wednesday.
"If the African Union forces were to leave and we're not able to put in a [UN force], we are heading for a disaster. And I don't think we can allow that to happen," Annan told reporters at a news conference.
Last month, the Sudanese government rejected a UN resolution that would have given the world body authority over peacekeepers in the Darfur region.
The UN Security Council voted to create a United Nations peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region, but said it would not deploy it until the Khartoum government gave its consent.
Referring to the situation as desperate, Annan said the UN will continue its efforts to get the Sudanese government to "bend and change its attitude.
"When we had Rwanda, almost everyone said we should not let it happen again," Annan said. "So we have a big challenge in Sudan."
Sudan has refused to allow UN peacekeepers to join or replace an African Union force in Darfur, the troubled western region where fighting between militants, militias and government forces have killed more than 200,000 people in the past few years.
The African Union troops have been largely ineffective in quelling the conflict. The AU has endorsed the idea of handing over responsibility to the UN no later than the end of September, when its mandate and funding expire.
Last April, Clooney, along with his father Nick, took a five-day tour of the region, documenting the conditions in Sudanese refugee camps. The actor has criticized the U.S. government for being too slow to act on the crisis.
Oscar-winning US actor and director George Clooney and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel will address the UN Security Council Thursday on the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region, UN and US officials said.
The two celebrities will appear at a closed-door meeting of the 15-member body Thursday afternoon to urge world action to protect the people of Darfur who, according to UN officials, face a disaster following renewed fighting between government troops and rebels.
The meeting, hosted by US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, was arranged as part of a formula that allows members of civil society to address the council to raise issues of concern.
"The situation in Darfur is not getting better, it’s getting worse," said Clooney who has been very active in the US campaign to save Darfur. "We need the international community to commit all of its resources to bring an end to this extraordinary suffering. The critical hour for Darfur is now."
Wiesel, who is also campaigning for the protection of the people of Darfur, said: "there is no choice but to act in defense of defenseless people . . . Those who commit genocide must not be allowed to hide behind national borders and claims of sovereignty."
Also Wednesday UN chief Kofi Annan warned of a disaster in Darfur unless Khartoum reconsiders its opposition to the deployment of a 20,000-strong UN force to take over peacekeeping from cash-strapped African Union troops in Darfur.
"If the African Union forces were to leave, and we are not able to put in a UN follow-on force, we are heading for a disaster, and I dont think we can allow that to happen," he told reporters.
But Sudan again rejected plans for a UN takeover in Darfur.
Monday, Annan strongly condemned a Sudanese government onslaught against rebels in Darfur, saying the latest fighting "shows utter disregard" for the Darfur Peace Agreement, signed in Nigeria last May by Khartoum and the main Darfur rebel movement. Two other rebel groups have refused to sign the deal.
The combined effect of war and famine in Darfur has left up to 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million in three and half years of civil war, pitting the Sudanese government and allied militias against ethnic minority rebels.