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UN Refugee Chief Warns Darfur Could De-stabilize Region


The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says the ongoing conflict in Sudan's Darfur province could de-stabilize the whole region. Guterres urges the international community to pressure the various fighting factions to end the war, otherwise, he says the consequences will be terrible.

U.N. Refugee Chief Antonio Guterres says the international community missed a chance to press for peace in Darfur. He says he believes it would have been possible to force the warring factions into a peace agreement last summer. That was when the Sudanese government and rebels in the South were engaged in a peace process that ended the country's 21-year-old civil war.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says that window of opportunity now is closed. But, he says it could be re-opened if the international community becomes fully involved and exerts the necessary pressure.

"Darfur is, in my opinion, the most pressing political and humanitarian problem we have in Africa today. It can have a very dramatic impact, not only in Sudan, but in the whole region," he said. "In my opinion the international community, starting by the five permanent members of the Security Council, all the members of the Security Council, the U.N. system, the different regional organizations like the African Union, everybody now needs to be deeply committed to make sure that a peace agreement is reached in Darfur."

He warns failure to reach a peace agreement in Darfur will have wide-ranging implications. Guterres says Darfur is not the only crisis threatening to explode. He says the Central African Republic is a catastrophe in the making. He adds the world knows very little about the situation in that country because the Central African Republic is of little strategic or economic interest to the world.

He calls it a forgotten crisis.

"There is a very strong problem of lawlessness in the north of Central African Republic," said Guterres. "We have now about 40,000 refugees of Central African Republic in Chad. There is a very dramatic factor of instability that not only can affect the Central African Republic, but can affect Chad and Cameroon. It is becoming a regional problem also of security. And, it is an area in which I believe the international community could be effective in prevention and if that will not be the case, the international community might be facing a major tragedy in the months or years to come."

Mr. Guterres notes the United Nations has just started its assistance programs for 2006, calling for $4.7 billion. He urges donors to give money on the basis of the needs of people, not on the basis of which crises attract the most media attention.