U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says he hopes every party involved in Sudan's Darfur conflict will agree to a peace treaty designed to end three years of bloodshed that has killed at least 180,000 people and forced more than two million to flee their homes. Mr. Annan made his remarks on the same day as the largest rebel faction in Darfur signed a peace agreement with Khartoum.
In a speech at George Washington University, Mr. Annan called on all groups in the Darfur conflict to agree to the peace plan announced Friday after talks in Abuja, Nigeria.
So far the government of Sudan and the main rebel faction in Darfur have signed the agreement, but two rebel groups have rejected the accord.
Mr. Annan urged all parties to end the fighting in the war-torn region of Western Sudan.
"I still hope that within the next day or two we may have an agreement embracing all parties," he said. "Indeed, I appeal to all of them to seize this opportunity and to come to a peace agreement for the sake of their peoples who have suffered so much."
The U.N. secretary general calls the Darfur conflict an "inexcusable tragedy," and says people there are enduring "intolerable suffering."
Mr. Annan warns that even if all parties sign the peace agreement, the survival of the people of Darfur is still at risk.
"But even if an agreement is reached, we should not imagine that it would mean that the problem is solved," he added. "A great deal remains to be done to ensure that the people in Darfur can even survive, let alone return in safety to their homes and to growing their own food."
Mr. Annan says the next major step is to strengthen the African Union's peacekeeping force in Darfur with a much larger group of troops under control of the United Nations.
"We will be working around the clock with the Security Council to encourage the government of Sudan and the other parties to implement the agreement on the ground and with potential troop contributors to put together a United Nations force building on what is already in place, but larger and more mobile," he said. "The longer this is delayed the greater the danger that the peace agreement will unravel and the bloodshed will continue."
The Sudanese government initially rejected calls for U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur, but has indicated it will support such a force once a peace agreement is in place.