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UN Official Calls for Factions in Sudan to Disarm

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour says there is no hope for peace in Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur region until the fighting factions are disarmed and demobilized. The high commissioner has just returned to Geneva from a two-week trip to Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan to Geneva.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights says peace in Darfur is linked to what happens in southern Sudan. Louise Arbour says the comprehensive peace agreement signed by the Sudanese government and southern Sudanese rebels has raised hopes the country is moving toward stability.

But she says southern Sudan is in a state of total neglect. She notes the region has no governance and no economic or physical infrastructure after 20 years of conflict. She says it needs to be completely rebuilt.

She says the Darfur agreement is likely to founder if the promises held out by the southern Sudan peace agreement are unfulfilled.

"There is in Darfur, in my view, there is no hope of peace holding if primarily attention is not given to disarmament," she said. "Southern Sudan is still plagued by insecurity caused by a flood of weaponry and various armed groups, including activities by the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group. I think the most urgent initiative in southern Sudan is a robust disarmament plan which is contemplated by the comprehensive peace agreement."

Arbour is calling for an immediate increase in the number of African Union troops in Darfur. The U.N. Security Council has approved sending peacekeepers to improve security and protection for civilians in Darfur.

The high commissioner says she hopes the Sudanese government will look more favorably at a U.N. presence in Darfur, now that a peace agreement has been signed in Abuja, Nigeria.

As with southern Sudan, Arbour says Darfur must urgently disarm all the fighters.

"There is no question that the fact that one-and-one-half factions of the movement have not signed on the agreement is troubling, to say the least. And, this may then serve as an excuse not to begin, what I think is again the priority of the Darfur peace agreement, which is the disarmament and demobilization of militias. Until this is done, there is no hope for a safe and voluntary return of refugees, of IDPs [Internally Displaced People] to their places of origin. They will not go," she said.

More than two million people have been internally displaced in Darfur and 200,000 others have fled to neighboring Chad since war began three years ago in Darfur.

Arbour says most Darfuris do not feel safe in the camps where they have taken refuge. She says they will feel even more exposed if they leave their camps while the gunmen remain armed.