The top United Nations relief official has chided African leaders for failing to send enough peacekeepers to stop the killing in Sudan's Darfur region. The official appealed for urgent deployment of thousands more African Union troops.
A day after returning from a visit to refugee camps in Darfur, U.N. Emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland called 2005 a "make or break" year for the region. He said the fate of millions of people depends on the international response to what he calls the "world's worst humanitarian crisis". "There is no other place in the world where so many lives are at stake," he said. "If it goes well we could have a historic turning to the better for six million internally displaced that is five times more than were displaced by the Indian Ocean tsunami. If it goes badly it could be a situation of mass death, mass suffering for millions of people."
Mr. Egeland said he was impressed by the response of humanitarian agencies, which have poured 10 thousand aid workers and millions of dollars of supplies into an area where ethnic cleansing had been taking place. Noting a decline in the number of deaths, he said "this is not Rwanda".
But he added, "if you move beyond the (refugee) camps, the killing continues; women are systematically abused and raped".
He lashed out at African leaders for failing to meet their commitments to supply a robust peacekeeping force for Darfur. He called it one of the biggest paradoxes of our time that after agreeing the region was a priority, the African Union had come up with a force of two thousand to quell violence in an area the size of France.
"It's very strange. If all heads of state in Africa say we will make it work and it's a priority, and they, in 10 months they produce such a small force, something is very wrong… The African Union has to be better internally," he said.
Mr. Egeland said in the heart of Darfur's conflict zone, where government-backed Janjaweed militias have been terrorizing black African villagers, the peacekeeping force is so small as to be ineffective. "In Labado, which is really ground zero for this Darfur war, 90 men and four vehicles, one Toyota and three pickups. That's not very much," he said.
Mr. Egeland recommended an immediate increase in the size of the A.U. force to ten thousand.
Darfur has been wracked by conflict since early 2003, when non-Arab rebel groups took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum. Arab militias responded by attacking African villagers in what the United Nations has called "ethnic cleansing" and the United States has labeled "genocide".
Investigators say both sides in the conflict are guilty of war crimes.