Outgoing U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for intervention to end the killing in Sudan's Darfur region. His appeal came in a farewell speech earlier this month -- and follows continuing violence in Darfur despite Sudan's recent acceptance of an expanded African Union (AU) force to maintain peace in the region.
The U.N. Security Council has authorized 20,000 U.N. troops for Darfur, but Khartoum will only agree to African peacekeepers under AU command. Some experts believe the stalemate over the U.N.'s role is allowing the situation in the war-torn region to worsen -- as we see in this report from Steve Mort in the Ethiopian capital.
In Darfur, violence is increasing. The situation has been deteriorating since a May peace deal between the government and one of the region's rebel groups.
The U.N.'s head of peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, believes dispatching more troops will prove pointless unless all sides show political will. "So long as the politics of Darfur are what they are with fragmentation of rebel movements and more and more military operations announced by both sides, no force will be able to make a real difference. So it's very important to get the politics right".
Getting the politics right, however, is tough.
At recent talks in Ethiopia, Sudan agreed to a so-called hybrid force -- thousands of extra African Union troops with U.N. financial and logistical support. But countries including the United States, which has labeled the Darfur situation genocide, want Sudan to allow in U.N. soldiers from outside Africa.
But an American specialist on African affairs, Kirt Young, says the impasse can only be broken by Sudan's Security Council allies -- China and Russia.
"Although you have a new agreement this time, we'll call it a hybrid, the forces on the ground have not changed. The dynamics in the international community hasn't changed,” said the University of Central Florida researcher. “China and Russia still speak to Sudan in a supportive way to say it quite mildly. Certainly China and Russia would maintain any veto power within the institution that could perhaps limit any meaningful UN involvement that can grow out of this hybrid agreement".
China is playing a central role in facilitating talks on Darfur. The UN says Beijing and others must demand assurances that an African Union force in Darfur can be effective.
And even if future talks do succeed in stopping the fighting, the UN's Jean-Marie Guehenno warns deploying troops will take time.
"It would take several months in the best of cases because it would be a huge deployment in the most difficult part of Africa - completely landlocked, no infrastructure - so logistically it's an enormous challenge. It's a much greater challenge than say, Lebanon. In Lebanon there's infrastructure, it's on the coast, it's easy. Darfur is one of the most difficult places where the UN would ever have to deploy," said the U.N. Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations.
But far from being near to deployment, the U.N. is now evacuating its international staff from Darfur because of intensifying violence.
More than 200,000 people have been killed since 2003 - and experts like Kirt Young say the region is in free-fall. "We are beginning to see other factors beginning to make the issue even more complicated -- questions of the region being a breeding ground for terrorists and al-Qaida related factions and what have you, which themselves would retard any type of involvement by the international community. You can't talk about this hybrid process in Darfur without addressing these really salient issues on the ground."
The violence in Darfur has spilled over into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic, and six million people face the prospect of starvation.
Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan presided over U.N. peacekeeping operations during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and now faces the very real prospect of retiring from the world body with possibly an even worse situation unfolding in Darfur.