The United States Monday called on the government of Sudan to allow deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur "without delay." The current African Union observer mission in the region is ill-equipped and under-funded, and lost two members killed in an ambush Saturday.
Officials here are pointing to Saturday's ambush as further evidence of a deteriorating security situation in Darfur that they say requires the early deployment of a full-scale U.N. peace force.
The United States and Britain last week introduced a resolution in the Security Council that would re-make the current African Union mission in Darfur into a United Nations peacekeeping force.
But the Sudanese government continues to oppose the idea, with President Omar al-Bashir threatening to forcibly resist its introduction.
In a statement, Acting State Department Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos condemned the attack by unknown assailants in northern Darfur that killed two Rwandan members of the African Union Mission in Sudan, AMIS, and wounded several others.
Gallegos called on the Sudanese government to cooperate fully with AMIS to arrest and prosecute those behind the attack.
He said the violence is another sign of the lack of security in the troubled region hampering humanitarian relief efforts, and underlines why the United States and international partners are pressing for the peacekeeping upgrade:
"The United Nations force must deploy without delay," said Gonzalo Gallegos. "Only a large, mobile, fast-reacting and robust U.N. force, with African Union forces forming its core, is capable of stopping the fighting, protecting civilians and humanitarian workers, allowing for continued and full implementation of the Darfur peace agreement, and providing a safe and secure environment where internally displaced persons and refugees of Darfur can return to their homes. We call on the government of Sudan to do its part to enable this transition to move forward."
Spokesman Gallegos called on all factions in Darfur to refrain from attacks and abide by the their responsibilities under the Darfur peace accord, reached in Nigeria in May, and the 2004 N'Djamena cease-fire accord that preceded it.
Officials here have praised the performance of AMIS but say the 7,000 - member AU mission lacks the mobility and equipment to police the huge western Sudanese region.
The U.S.-British draft resolution would boost the force to more than 17,000 troops and make it a full-scale "blue-hatted" United Nations peacekeeping mission.
The two Security Council members introduced the resolution last week hoping it would prod the Sudanese leadership to reconsider its opposition, with the mandate for AMIS due to expire at the end of next month.
The May 5 peace agreement in the Nigerian capital Abuja was supposed to have ended the three-year conflict but it instead sparked violence among Darfur rebel groups.
The conflict erupted in early 2003 when rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government, which then backed Arab "Janjaweed" militiamen in a scorched-earth military campaign in the region.
The conflict is believed to have led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people and displaced more than two million.