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UNHCR Security in Darfur Not Possible Without Peace Agreement

06 October 2007

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, warns that thousands of African Union and UN peacekeepers will be unable to guarantee security in Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur without a comprehensive peace agreement. He says the international community must pressure Sudan's government and the rebel movements in Darfur to negotiate in good faith when peace talks open later this month. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

UN agencies that are providing humanitarian assistance to some 2.5 million internally displaced people in Darfur say security in the camps and the region continues to deteriorate.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says he is pleased that Sudan has signed on to a UN Security Council decision to send thousands of peacekeepers to the region. A 26,000 strong hybrid force composed of African Union and United Nations soldiers is to go to Darfur early next year.

But, Guterres says Darfur has many complex problems. He says it will be difficult for the peacekeepers to fully deliver security in Darfur if there is no peace agreement.

"That is why we are, I would say, desperately willing that these peace negotiations come to a positive result, outcome," he said. "Because without a meaningful, comprehensive peace agreement between the government of Khartoum and the relevant groups acting in the region, rebel groups acting in the region, it will be very difficult even for a peace force to be able to guarantee the security of the people."

Peace negotiations between the government of Sudan and key rebel groups are to begin on October 27 in Libya.

But, since the deal was concluded by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a month ago, several of the groups have said they will not attend. And, complicating matters even more, some of the groups have splintered into competing factions.

Guterres says he understands the complications, but that everything must be done to bring the warring factions together around the negotiating table.

"My opinion, of course, both to the government of Khartoum and to the movements and to the international community to put all pressure on both sides for this peace agreement to be reached," he added. "Without it, we see a lot of concern for the future of the population, and we see lots of limitations in the capacity to protect them even with a force on the ground."

Earlier this week, rebels overran an African Union base in Darfur, killing at least 10 peacekeepers. This was the deadliest attack on the AU force since it deployed in June 2004.

Darfur rebels have grown increasingly hostile to the 7,000 AU soldiers, saying they favor the government, a claim the African Union denies.

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