UN Tries to Drag World Into Darfur

UNITED NATIONS – As the 53-member African Union (AU) prepares to bolster its peacekeeping force in Sudan tenfold, UN chief Kofi Annan is appealing for funds, equipment and other support to sustain the body mandated to stem the rising number of atrocities and killings in violence-prone Darfur province.

But senior UN officials and representatives of humanitarian aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are skeptical as to whether African countries have the economic and military resources needed to collectively mount a major operation – and whether Western nations will fill the gap.

"The U.S. European Command [USEUCOM] has just made a pledge of planes and other military air transport equipment to assist the AU’s efforts in Darfur and for the airlift of its troops within the region", says Donna J. Derr, associate director of international emergency response programs at Washington-based Church World Service (CWS).

USEUCOM is a joint U.S.-European command whose mission includes advancing U.S. and European interests in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

But the most important need, Derr adds, is funding. "One of the things we’ve historically found is that when we’ve had these kinds of neighboring government forces intervening to mitigate conflicts or crises, no one’s coming through with the funds to pay their troops," Derr told IPS.

"So true U.S. logistical commitment must include funds, not just equipment."

"We believe the U.S. government has heard the call of humanitarian agencies to provide robust logistical and financial support to any African Union forces, and we believe the U.S. is committed to doing its very best in that regard," Derr added.

Annan told the Security Council in August that Nigeria, Tanzania and Botswana had pledged to provide troops to the AU force, while South Africa had agreed to provide logistics support.

The atrocities in Darfur, where an estimated 30,000 black Africans have been killed and over 1.5 million displaced, have been committed by marauding Arab militias called the Janjaweed ("men on horseback"). The Sudanese government has not only been accused of creating the militias, but also of turning a blind eye to their continued killings.

UN Special Representative for Sudan Jan Pronk told the Security Council on Thursday that "resources have to be redoubled or more," meaning that Sudan needs at least an additional $250 million in humanitarian aid until the end of 2004 to help those displaced by the violent conflict.

Pronk quoted one of the ministers who has visited Sudan as saying, "put your money where your mouth is" – implicitly accusing the international community of paying only lip service to the cause of aiding the refugees.

The Security Council in August gave the government of Sudan 30 days to help contain the widespread atrocities in Darfur or face possible UN economic and military sanctions.

But the 15-member council, which has been dragging its feet over the imposition of sanctions, has now shifted its responsibility to the AU, asking the organization to strengthen its forces in Darfur, which now number 300 troops.

"While we commend the African Union for its efforts to address the Darfur crisis, we must recognize its real limitations," says Salih Booker, executive director of Washington-based Africa Action.

He said his organization has already warned against any efforts by the international community – and the Security Council – to "unfairly foist on the African Union the ultimate responsibility for stopping genocide in western Sudan."

"The AU does not have the resources to lead a strong and urgent intervention in Darfur, although it can form an important part of such an international response," Booker said in a statement released Thursday.

"If the United Nations and its member states decide tomorrow to push the burden onto the African Union to stop this genocide, they in effect have washed their hands of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis because it is occurring in Africa," he added.

Bill Fletcher, Jr., president of TransAfrica Forum, was equally critical of the reluctance of the Security Council and UN member states to address "the real intransigence of the Khartoum regime."

There are three reasons for the foot-dragging, he added. One, a fear that a precedent will be set that justifies intervening in nations’ "domestic affairs".

Two, some nations believe that the real motive for an intervention is to "dismember Sudan," and take its oil and other resources. And three, there are insufficient resources to mount or sustain an operation.

"The resolution of the Darfur crisis must be through African initiatives. A Western intervention would be a disaster," Fletcher told IPS. But he said the United States and the EU can and should provide financial and logistical assistance – "and they must do this immediately."

"Those countries [in the Security Council] blocking additional actions should be held accountable … pressure needs to be mounted by governments, non-governmental organizations and popular organizations to compel world governments to act and to act quickly," Fletcher added.

The Security Council failed to act in one of the world’s worst massacres, the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the killings of 800,000 Tutsis and of Hutus who were viewed as sympathetic to them.

There is speculation in the corridors of the United Nations that veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, such as Russia and China, are reluctant to impose sanctions on Sudan because they have commercial and economic interests in the nation.

According to Derr, as of Thursday morning, "Security Council members are clearly quite divided on this issue."

"But we certainly hope that all nations will stand ready to support the African Union’s most diligent and possible endeavors to end the crisis in Darfur."

Pronk also told delegates the humanitarian situation in Darfur "is still very bleak." Although Khartoum had made progress in some areas – such as deploying additional police and lifting access restrictions to relief organizations – it has failed to meet its commitments in two key areas, he said.

First, it has not been able to stop attacks by militias against civilians, and second, authorities have done nothing to bring to justice or even identify any of the militia leaders, Pronk said.

The Security Council, which met only to receive an update from Pronk, is expected to reconvene next week to decide its next move.

Derr said it is an injustice to suggest that an AU force interceding in Darfur would not be an international force, adding that multiple nations coming together from within Africa do technically constitute an international force.

"To imply or infer otherwise is to suggest that peacekeeping is only possible in Africa, or elsewhere, if Western forces are involved. In some instances," she reminded, "western engagement has exacerbated problems."

But, she added, "Does the AU need capacitation now in terms of equipment and funding to assist in Darfur? Yes. And the U.S. and other nations can play a vital role."

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Author: Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen writes for Inter Press Service.