U.N. chief to visit Sudan’s Darfur region
UNITED NATIONS – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced Tuesday that he will visit Sudan, Chad and Libya next week to promote a political solution to the conflict in Darfur and test the Sudanese government’s commitment to speedy deployment of a 26,000-strong force in the region.Ban told a news conference that on his first visit to the region since taking the reins of the United Nations in January he would push the peace process, seek to get a hybrid African Union-U.N. force on the ground quickly and press for delivery of humanitarian aid.The secretary-general said he chose this time to make the week-long trip because of the “historic opportunity” provided by the U.N. Secuity Council’s adoption of a resolution on July 31 authorizing the hybrid force to replace the beleaguered 7,000-strong AU force in Darfur by year’s end. The resolution was adopted after months of delay in getting agreement from the Sudanese government.”I want to go and see the very difficult conditions under which our forces will operate,” Ban said. “I want to know, first hand, the plight of those they seek to help.””But more, I want to create the foundations of a lasting peace and security. My goal is to lock in the progress we have made so far, to build on it so that this terrible trauma may one day cease,” he said.More than 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been displaced in Darfur since ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government in 2003, accusing it of discrimination. Sudan is accused of retaliating by unleashing Arab militias responsible for much of the violence – an accusation the government denies.Ban called the recent escalation in violence in Darfur that has killed hundreds of people in the last few weeks “simply unacceptable.””I appeal to the government of Sudan and to all parties to refrain from military action and choose, at this critical juncture … the path of peace and political dialogue,” he said.Ban said deploying the hybrid force speedily will be “one of the largest and most complex field operations the United Nations has ever undertaken” because of the harsh environment and lack of water and communications. “It cannot succeed without the cooperation of the government of Sudan,” he said.”This is the time for Sudanese government to fully implement the Security Council resolution,” Ban said. “Of course, their commitment will be tested in every aspect by the international community, by the United Nations.”The secretary-general said this was “exactly” what he planned to discuss with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other leaders. He said he also planned to raise the government’s recent expulsions of the country director of the aid organization CARE International and the top Canadian diplomat and European Union envoy.Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Abdelmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamed said the government will use Ban’s visit “to renew our commitment to the United Nations, our commitment to the resolution on the hybrid – so he will find a committed Sudan to implementing the letter and the spirit of that resolution.”He said Sudan would also like Ban’s visit to put renewed emphasis on the peace process, economic development and rehabilitation and a U.N.’s promise of financing for the hybrid force, which has not yet been approved by the General Assembly.In neighboring Chad, which has been affected by the spillover of the Darfur conflict, Ban said he and President Idriss Deby will discuss a Security Council statement adopted Monday giving the EU and the U.N. a green light to prepare for a new deployment to help protect civilians in both Chad and the Central African Republic.The EU is considering deploying up to 3,000 troops and the U.N. up to 300 international police to help protect some 400,000 refugees and internally displaced people in Chad, and more than 200,000 displaced people in the northern Central African Republic.Ban said his final stop will be in Libya because it is “an important regional player” and has hosted several meetings to get rebel groups in Darfur to join the government in new peace negotiations.The secretary-general said he hopes these talks, involving more than a dozen groups and the government, will start in October.”Peacekeeping, alone, is not enough,” he stressed. “It must be accompanied by a political solution.”Not long after he returns from Africa, Ban said he will host an international meeting on Darfur at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 21. It will follow up a ministerial meeting in Paris on June 25 that tried to push forward peace efforts and included the world’s major industrial and political powers, China and South Africa.