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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
15 March 2006

SUDAN: Focus must remain on civilian protection in Darfur - UN

NAIROBI, 15 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the international community to remain focused on the protection of civilians in Sudan's strife-torn region of Darfur, saying that rising insecurity there had made it dangerous and volatile.

International efforts should aim to "contribute to the protection of civilians at risk with a view to creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation in a country where human rights are respected and internally displaced persons and refugees can return home," said Annan in his monthly update on Darfur, which was released to the Security Council on Tuesday.

Commenting on the proposed transformation of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Darfur into a UN force, Annan said consultations would "take into consideration the ongoing violence and consistent violation of human rights in the region, the displacement of more than 3 million people and increasing instability near the border with Chad." He cautioned that the success of the mission's handover to the UN would require the support of the Sudanese government.

"Although the government of the Sudan is expressing reservations at the moment, we hope to gain its cooperation as we carry out the planning. In fact, government cooperation will be a requirement, since the Security Council request to start planning for a possible transition stipulates, quite rightly, that we do so in cooperation and in close consultation with the parties to the Abuja peace talks," said Annan.

He said that without an effective ceasefire, any international security presence in Darfur "will have to be mandated and equipped to take robust action to protect civilians at risk." The report took note of the escalating insecurity and warned that banditry, armed clashes and tensions along the border with Chad were contributing to a "dangerous and volatile situation".

As the people of Darfur faced growing threats to their security, aid workers trying to offer help were also under attack, according to the report. The UN had been forced to restrict the movements of relief workers in parts of Western Darfur and to cut staff levels in the region.

The report also highlighted disturbing indications of sexual violence against children, noting that the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) was "following up on five separate cases in Northern and Western Darfur between late November 2005 and January 2006, in which strong evidence has emerged that children under 15 years of age were raped."

The Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003 when the rebel Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement took up arms against the Sudanese government in Khartoum to end what they call the neglect and oppression of the inhabitants of Darfur, western Sudan. The Sudanese government responded by backing Arab militias known as the Janjawid.


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