Senior Bush administration officials said Friday the United States will use its term this month as U.N. Security Council president to push for the conversion of the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur into a full-scale U.N. mission. The first step in the process came Friday with the Security Council's call for contingency planning for the reconfigured force.
Bush administration officials are hailing the courage and resolve of the African Union mission in Darfur.
But amid what they describe a "fraying" of the security situation in the troubled region, they say a full-fledged United Nations mission will be able to bring more resources to bear in the effort to stabilize Darfur.
Senior State Department officials briefed reporters here while at the U.N., the Security Council took the first step toward the new mission by asking Secretary-General Kofi Annan to initiate contingency planning and prepare force options for the council.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer called the deterioration of security in Darfur over the last two months "serious."
However she said it involved fighting among various parties including internecine warfare among Darfur rebel factions, and not the large-scale uprooting of the population by government-backed militiamen that caused the United States in 2004 to depict the violence as genocide:
"I think that there's a fraying within the rebel forces that certainly complicates it," said Jendayi Frazer. "The role of neighbors is also a complicating factor, Chad, Eritrea and Libya in particular. And so it's a fairly dynamic alliance, which makes the Abuja peace talks more difficult. There's also obviously been a fraying in the cease-fire agreement that previously was holding. So I think that's what's happening. And I think we really need to use the United States presidency of the Security Council to push on all fronts.
The administration officials said the envisaged new U.N. force would combine the African Union mission with the existing United Nations force in southern Sudan, each with about 7,000 members, and presumably add additional troops.
The U.N. special envoy for Sudan Jan Pronk has estimated that at least 20,000 troops would be needed to disarm Darfur militias and protect refugees, though the officials here would not predict how large the force might be.
Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Kristen Silverberg said it would be larger that than the combined forces now deployed, and that the United Nations framework would bring distinct advantages:
"There are a number of things that U.N. forces bring to the table that can be helpful," said Kristen Silverberg. "One is the simple fact that all of the resources of the full international community are brought to bear, not just the resources of Africa, which are still significant, but the resources of the all the international community. The U.N. has an expertise in logistics. It frequently comes in with heavier equipment and more involved logistical operations than are sometimes present in regional forces.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when local rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government. Khartoum responded by backing Arab Janjaweed militiamen who waged a scorched-earth campaign against the rebels and their perceived supporters among the region's civilian population.