U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sending a high-level mission to Khartoum to persuade Sudan's government to allow U.N. military planners into Darfur. That word comes as the top U.N. emergency relief official is warning that humanitarian operations in the region are in jeopardy, threatened by cash shortages and attacks on aid workers.
Retired senior diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi goes to Sudan next week to discuss the U.N. takeover of peacekeeping operations in Darfur from African Union troops. He will be accompanied by the deputy head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, Hedi Annabi.
Brahimi is a former Algerian foreign minister, who also served as Secretary General Kofi Annan's envoy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired last December.
Mr. Annan ordered the mission two days after the U.N. Security Council gave the Sudanese government one week to allow military planners into Darfur.
Spokesman Stephane Dujarric says the Brahimi mission signals an intensification of talks on transferring control of the African Union-led peacekeeping force to the U.N., following the peace deal, signed this month by the Sudanese government and the main rebel group in Abuja, Nigeria.
"What they will discuss is what role the U.N. will play in Darfur in the implementation of the peace agreement," he said. "They are part of the preparation for the proposed transition. We have been having contacts with Sudanese government, both at the mission level here in New York, and in Khartoum, and we are trying to move the planning process ahead as quickly as possible."
U.N. diplomats have expressed hope that the Darfur peacekeeping mission could be transferred to U.N. control and more than doubled in size by later this year. The Khartoum government had earlier said it would permit the handover, once a peace agreement was signed, but, in recent days, has given conflicting signals about whether it would do so.
In the meantime, Secretary-General Annan has renewed his call for immediate action to save the lives of hundreds-of-thousands of people suffering as a result of the conflict in Darfur.
In an article reprinted Friday in a French newspaper, Le Figaro, Mr. Annan again called Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The article originally appeared in a British newspaper, The Financial Times.
In a related development, the top U.N. emergency relief official warned that conditions in refugee camps in Darfur and neighboring Chad are deteriorating.
Humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland told the Security Council of a surge in violence in recent days, as rival factions battle for advantage, following the signing of the Abuja peace accord. Two smaller rebel groups did not sign the accord, and Egeland said they need to be brought on board.
"It has become worse in some of the camps," he said. "But, I have seen many times before that the stakes are so high now, as the various groups try to jockey for positions, and the tragic attacks against African Union colleagues in these various camps, including Kalma, is because the rebel leaders are still outside of the agreement, and they have to be brought inside."
Egeland, who just returned from Darfur, called for urgent action to prevent a scenario in which civilians in camps are being attacked, the camps are becoming more militarized, and relief workers are forced to withdraw.
Egeland urged the Khartoum government to end what he called "administrative nightmares" that are, in many cases, preventing aid from reaching needy Darfurians. He also urged donors to increase contributions for Darfur relief, which in some cases are less than one-fifth of what they were a year ago.