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Senior UN Official Optimistic Darfur Accord Will Work

The United Nations' top emergency relief coordinator says he is optimistic the agreement to end the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region can work. But he warns of serious consequences, if it is not implemented. The U.N. official also appealed to Sudan's government to approve deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

U.N. Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland says the Darfur peace agreement can work if it is implemented and enforced by a strong peacekeeping contingent. Although only the main rebel group, which controls the majority of commanders in the field, signed the accord, Egeland says he believes the smaller rebel groups eventually will come on board.

If the plan is implemented, he says, humanitarian agencies can immediately start planning Darfur's recovery after three years of war. He says aid agencies can begin returning nearly two million internally displaced people to the homes they fled when their villages came under attack.

"If it is not going to be implemented, it will almost certainly mean that the spiral downwards that has been going on now since September of 2005 continuously will get totally out of control, and we will really go over the abyss, and into it," said Egeland. "We have to survive 2006, and many are not aware of us actually at the moment hanging by our fingernails, and we are slipping, at the moment, inside Darfur."

Egeland says it is absolutely critical that the number of African Union troops in Darfur be increased. He says 7,000 troops is not enough, and the AU force must be given a robust mandate, so it can protect the civilian population and humanitarian workers. He says rich Western countries must significantly increase the amount of money they give to the African Union.

Ultimately, he says, a much larger U.N. peacekeeping force will be needed to cement the peace in Darfur, and he urged Sudan to agree to such a force.

"They are now discussing and reflecting on that. I hope there will be a 'yes', because it is in the interest of Sudan. Any U.N. peacekeeping force has to be agreed upon by the host nation," he said. "It would take time, even after we get a green light from the government, it will take months to get a U.N. force on the ground, and we have to survive those months."

Until then, he says, the African Union will remain in charge. Egeland says that is why the international community must continue to support the African Union over the coming months.