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Annan Warns Sudan's Leaders: Protect Darfurians Or Face Consequences

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has accused the Sudanese government of failing to protect its citizens in war-ravaged Darfur. VOA's Peter Heinlein at our U.N. office reports Mr. Annan warned the leadership in Khartoum that they could be held accountable for the failure.

The secretary-general Thursday expressed dismay at Sudan's continuing refusal to allow a U.N.-led peacekeeping force into Darfur. In unusually blunt language, Mr. Annan suggested that Sudanese leaders could be called to account, individually and collectively, for failing to carry out their responsibility to protect the people of Darfur from what the United States calls "genocide".

"The responsibility to protect the citizens is the responsibility of government in Khartoum. The government patently has not been able to do that, given all the difficulties we see in Darfur, killings, rape, destruction, and the international community has offered to go in to help them. But the government has refused to accept that help," he said.

Mr. Annan said Sudan's rejection of a 22-thousand strong U.N.-backed force is placing its leaders in what he called a "very difficult situation". "In time they may have to answer collectively and individually for what is happening in Darfur. I think in this situation the international community has been prepared to go in, the difficulty has been with the government, and I think we should be clear where the failure lies," he said.

After a meeting in Ethiopia last month, Mr. Annan announced that Sudan had accepted in principle what he called a "hybrid force", operated jointly by the United Nations and the African Union. The force would take over from the current seven-thousand strong A.U. mission that has been largely unable to stop the violence.

Since then, however, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has repeatedly said the agreement was not for a joint force, but an African Union force assisted by the U.N. He wrote a letter to Mr. Annan setting out proposals for the force, but the secretary-general Thursday said he was not satisfied with the reply. "President Bashir's letter was a bit ambiguous, but he was at summit in Abuja which endorsed the hybrid approach. Obviously the proof of the pudding is going to be in the eating, and we are going to come up with concrete steps which we'll press the Sudanese on," he said.

The secretary-general said the Security Council would only be willing to pay the cost of the hybrid peacekeeping mission if it was confident it would be effective in providing security for Darfur.

He said he would continue to press Sudanese leaders to stop blocking the mission, and would ask others with influence to work with them, both from the global arena and also regional leaders.