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UN Envoy Calls for Cessation of Hostilities in Darfur

The U.N. special envoy for Darfur has told the Security Council that there must be an immediate cessation of hostilities in order to create an environment conducive to peace talks. But as Jan Eliasson made his appeal Friday, reports came in from the region of Sudanese troops backed by Arab militias attacking villages in West Darfur. VOA's Margaret Besheer has the latest from United Nations headquarters in New York.

Jan Eliasson told the Council that, now more than ever, there is an urgent need to demand that the parties in Sudan stop fighting.

"I just received this minute, reports from field about attacks on the villages by the Sudanese army entities and militia groups. These reports are not yet detailed and confirmed, but it seems like hundreds of people may have been killed in these attacks and they continue at this moment. You have a dramatic reminder at this meeting that there is a clear need, urgently, to demand of the parties an immediate cessation of hostilities," said Eliasson.

Friday's violence added to Eliasson's concerns about the recent deterioration in the security and humanitarian situations in Darfur, most recently because of events in neighboring Chad, where rebels have been trying to violently overthrow the government.

Eliasson stressed that substantive peace talks between the government and rebel groups could not work unless the escalation of violence is reversed. He said, to demonstrate their commitment to the political process, the parties in Sudan should unilaterally declare and respect a cessation of hostilities.

The United Nations has been working to deploy a force of African Union and U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur, but it has been hampered by the lack of troop contributions and equipment, specifically helicopters.

U.N. Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told the Security Council that the peacekeepers - known as UNAMID - are severely under-resourced and insufficient to provide protection for Darfur's civilians in the current hostile environment.

UNAMID is in urgent need of 24 helicopters to ferry troops around Darfur, a region nearly the size of France. Bangladesh and Ethiopia have offered to help meet that shortfall, but Guéhenno told reporters that the helicopters from Bangladesh do not meet technical requirements. The Ethiopian offer is still under review.