The head of the U.N.-AU Mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, said Tuesday that there has been steady progress in talks between the Sudanese government and a major opposition group, but that the security situation in Darfur has deteriorated.
UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari told the U.N. Security Council that talks between Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement are making steady progress. But he said the continued absence from the negotiations of two major armed movements is "deeply unfortunate."
Gambari told the Security Council that despite considerable efforts by UNAMID, the security situation in Darfur has not improved since last month when he described it as "dire." Gambari said fighting between Sudanese government forces and the Justice and Equality Movement continues to be a major source of insecurity in several parts of Darfur.
Gambari said he has grave concerns over a spike in criminal acts and attacks against U.N. and humanitarian personnel.
"The Darfur peace process is at a critical juncture," he said. "It is perhaps fortunate that at precisely the same time as the security situation in Darfur has deteriorated, prospects for a negotiated settlement appear to have improved slightly."
Emerging from the Security Council meeting, the U.S. representative at the United, Nations Susan Rice, said the United States is alarmed by what she called the dramatically deteriorating security situation in Darfur.
She welcomed the progress reported by Gambari in the deployment of UNAMID, which he said it is nearing full deployment. But Rice was sharply critical of Sudan's restrictions on UNAMID activity.
"The government of Sudan's continued restrictions on UNAMID's movement, its ability to fly its helicopters in defense of its mission, including protection of civilians and evacuation of UNAMID peacekeepers under attack is absolutely unacceptable and needs to be halted," said Rice. "And we demand that the government of Sudan fulfill its obligations to allow full freedom of access and movement for UNAMID and for humanitarian workers."
Rice underscored the United States' strong support for the mandate of UNAMID and its core function of protecting civilians.