African foreign ministers will meet Friday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and are expected to consider replacing the African Union force in Darfur with a UN peacekeeping mission. The meeting follows promises yesterday by the United States and European Union to boost support for AU troops in Darfur. But they also called upon Sudan to allow the United Nations to deploy its own troops later this year.
The group Human Rights Watch is calling on the African ministers to support the UN mission. It also criticizes the Sudanese government, accusing it of blocking efforts to protect civilians in Darfur. Khartoum has voiced concerns about its sovereignty and the safety of UN troops in the region.
Leslie Lefkow is a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch. From Amsterdam, she spoke with English to Africa’s Joe De Capua about deploying UN troops: “A transition from the African Union to a UN force would offer a much stronger hope of protection for civilians in Darfur because the African Union has tried very hard, I think, to meet the challenges of working there but has been hobbled by lack of funding, by inexperience and by insufficient troops and hardware. You know, if they transition to a UN force then that will greatly improve their ability to deal with all of those challenges.
As for the government’s resistance to the idea, Lefkow says, “The Sudanese government has put up a very active lobby against this in the last few weeks. They’ve been drawing parallels to Iraq. They’ve been calling the introduction of the UN force a violation of their sovereignty. All of which begs several questions. One is that Sudan is already hosting more than 10,000 foreign troops. So transitioning the African Union force into a UN force in Darfur doesn’t substantially change the fact that there are foreign troops on the ground in Darfur. The second is that the Sudanese government has been totally unable or unwilling more likely to protect civilians in Darfur. If the UN offers a better potential to do this, why should they resist.”
Khartoum has been the scene of anti-UN protests this week.