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U.N. official: Sudan security not improved

The top U.N. official on the crisis in Sudan said Tuesday that the situation in Darfur had not improved, as clashes between the government and rebels continued, and perpetrators of atrocities remained at large.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The top U.N. envoy to Sudan said Tuesday the Sudanese government has failed to improve security for the embattled people in Darfur or brought to justice the perpetrators of atrocities during the 19-month conflict.

Jan Pronk accused the government and rebels of continuing to violate an April cease-fire, with the army attacking, sometimes with helicopter gunships and the rebels often directing their fire at police. But he said “there are signs of improvement on the political front.”

In an open briefing to the U.N. Security Council on two reports by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Pronk called for a beefed-up African Union force with a greatly expanded mandate “in the coming weeks.”

“It can help to protect the people by being present over a wide area, by being seen, by acting as a deterrent,” he said.

Risk of wider confrontation
Pronk reiterated that the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, which has killed over 50,000 people and forced 1.4 million to flee, is “the worst humanitarian crisis of today.”

He warned that failure to resolve it “could create the conditions for a widening regional or even global confrontation,” and called for progress in separate political talks this month on Darfur and on ending the 21-year civil war in southern Sudan.

Sudan’s Arab-dominated government is accused of mobilizing Arab tribal fighters for attacks on Darfur’s villagers, in retaliation for uprisings launched by two non-Arab Darfur rebel movements in February 2003. Sudan denies any responsibility and says it has disarmed some of the Arab militiamen, known as Janjaweed.

Calling for “a comprehensive political solution” in Sudan, Pronk said agreements already negotiated to resolve the war in the south should be used as the basis to solve conflicts in Darfur and elsewhere in the country.

He urged the international community to put pressure on Sudan to change its policies and bring into the political process rebel movements, tribal leaders, opposition groups, civil society, women’s groups, and the younger generation that will have to build a new Sudan.

“Aim not at regime change but at regime character change,” Pronk told the 15-member council and an audience from many nations.

Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Elfatih Mohamed Erwa told reporters afterward that “what I understand is that you have to set up new agreements and new rules for the way to govern Sudan, which is diverse.”

Cease-fire not holding
In his report on Darfur, the secretary-general said the government made “no further progress” in September in key areas essential to restoring security including implementing a cease-fire, stopping attacks on civilians, disarming militias, and persecuting the perpetrators of atrocities.

“It is clear that the cease-fire is not holding in many parts of Darfur,” he said.

Annan also noted that government efforts in August to improve security in camps where Sudanese have taken refuge, to deploy additional police, and to lift restrictions to humanitarian relief had “not been reversed” in September.

But Pronk told the council on Tuesday that this was “not good enough.”

“There was no systematic improvement of people’s security and no progress on ending impunity,” he said. “In September, on security, ... there were still breaches of the cease-fire from both sides, attacks and counterattacks, revenge and retaliation. ... (and) the government still fails to bring the perpetrators of atrocities to justice.”

Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Elfatih Mohamed Erwa called Annan’s assessment, which was reiterated by Pronk, “a balanced one.”

He said there was “no reverse because the government is still committed” but the situation “didn’t improve because there were certain security problems,” citing the continuing attacks and counterattacks.

“If we observed the cease-fire, I think there would be a better security environment that would let the commitments of the government regarding security to be implemented,” Erwa said.

But U.S. deputy ambassador Stuart Holliday said “It’s particularly troubling that the cease-fire violations continue on both sides.”