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Annan Calls Emergency Meeting On Darfur


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is pleading with influential countries to pressure Darfur's warring parties to bring their peace talks to a successful conclusion. The world body's top humanitarian official is heading to Darfur to highlight the need for more relief assistance.

Secretary General Annan Thursday called an emergency meeting of a 17-nation group known as "Friends of Darfur". Among those attending were the ambassadors representing the United States, China, Russia, the European Union and the African Union.

Afterward, Mr. Annan told VOA he had urged the group to intensify diplomatic pressure for a successful outcome of the Darfur peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria.

"We discussed the Darfur situation, the critical situation of the talks, and the need for all of us, particularly those with influence, to press the parties to seize the moment and make an agreement, a real agreement, that will stand the test of time," said Kofi Annan.

Mr. Annan said the Friends of Darfur group also discussed boosting humanitarian assistance once a peace deal is reached, and increasing support for an African Union force known as AMIS that will be charged with keeping the peace.

"We need to strengthen the African Union force, because they will have to take steps to initially begin implementing the agreement once it is signed, and as the follow-on U.N. force is going to take time, it is extremely important that we take measures to strengthen the African force, which will mean additional troops, additional logistical support, additional financial support," he said.

Top U.N. relief official Jan Egeland also attended Thursday's meeting, a day before he leaves on a visit to Darfur. The visit was aborted last month after Sudanese officials refused to allow his plane to land.

Egeland told diplomats overall funding for Darfur relief operations is only one-fifth of what had been pledged, and said another $200 million will be needed immediately to aid the more than three million people displaced by Darfur's three-year civil war.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said the United States expects to respond positively to the request for more funds.

"We're the largest humanitarian donor to the humanitarian tragedy in Darfur," said John Bolton. "Over $1.3 billion worth of assistance since 2004 and we have another supplemental request of $120 million to support the [AU peacekeeping force] in process now. We've contributed over 80 percent of the food distributed in the Darfur region."

With talks at a critical stage in Abuja, President Bush this week called Sudan's president to urge him to accept a peace deal with Darfur's rebels. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is among top diplomats staying in Abuja to help in settling the dispute.

Civil war, involving Sudanese government forces, government-backed Janjaweed militias and rebels broke out in Darfur more than three years ago. The conflict has claimed an estimated 180,000 lives, many of them victims of starvation and disease.

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