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UN Envoy Recommends Robust New Peacekeeping Force for Darfur

The top U.N. envoy to Sudan is asking the Security Council to send a new peacekeeping force to Darfur. The diplomat painted a grim picture of the prospects for ending violence and suffering in the vast western Sudanese region.

Speaking to the Security Council Friday, U.N. Special Representative for Sudan Jan Pronk frankly admitted that the current strategy for bringing peace to Darfur is in shambles. "Looking back at three years of killing and cleansing in Darfur, we must admit that our peace strategy so far has failed. All we did was pick(ing) up the pieces and muddling through, doing too little too late," he said.

War broke out in Darfur in early 2003, when rebels launched an insurrection to protest what they called political and economic marginalization of black African tribes by the Arab-led Khartoum government.

The government's response was to unleash Arab militias known as 'janjaweed'. These heavily-armed groups launched a campaign of killings, rapes and widespread human rights violations that some call "ethnic cleansing," and the United States labeled "genocide".

The international community responded with a seven-thousand strong African Union peacekeeping force. But those A.U. troops have not stopped either the violence or the humanitarian catastrophe gripping the region.

Three years after the war broke out, special envoy Pronk says the security situation remains 'chaotic'. "The perpetrators of 2003 and 2004 have reached their goal; many areas have been cleansed. They have a free passage in the countryside. Terror continues. At least once a month, groups of 500 to one-thousand militia on camel and horseback attack villages, killing dozens of people and terrorizing others who flee away," he said.

With little hope of improvement in sight, Secretary-General Kofi Annan concluded that the African Union force in Darfur is not large enough or strong enough.

This week, he said, the world body is drawing up contingency plans for a U.N. peacekeeping force to augment the A.U. troops, and said such a force would have to be equipped with tactical air support and helicopters. He acknowledged that the United States and the European Union might be needed to supply this type of capability.

Sudan, however, has rejected suggestions of a U.N. force. Acting Sudanese ambassador to the U.N. Yasir Abdelsalam said Khartoum favors more international financial support for the A.U. troops. "I think the African Union is doing well. In the briefing by Mr. Pronk, he's commending the role being played by the African union. This is why we think the African Union should be given more support," he said.

Sudan has in the past refused to accept non-African peacekeepers in Sudan. But in view of the critical conditions in Darfur, Mr. Annan said "I think we have gone beyond that now".

At the moment, the A.U. force has only enough money to keep operating through March. Mr. Annan this week suggested a donors' conference might be needed to raise enough money to keep the force operating, because it would be impossible to have a U.N. force organized and on the ground by March.