The top UN envoy for Sudan, Jan Pronk, is calling for a stronger international peacekeeping force to protect civilians in Sudan's western Darfur region. Last week, the African Union said it backs proposals for a UN peacekeeping force in the troubled area. Mr. Pronk told Voice of America?s Kay Maddux that ?it has to be a big force ? at least twice as large as the African Union (force) now. It has to be strong, with weapons with which they can defend themselves ? they are being attacked ? and with which they can disarm the militia.?

Mr. Pronk has briefed the UN Security Council, the White House and NATO on the deteriorating situation in Darfur. Violence has continued despite the presence of a seven-thousand-strong African Union peacekeeping operation.

The toll of the war has been high. Since rebels began fighting the Sudanese government and Arab militiamen three years ago, an estimated 180 thousand people have died, and another two million are displaced and living in refugee camps. As the humanitarian crisis continues, the warring parties have concluded yet another round of African Union-sponsored peace talks in Nigeria.

Mr. Pronk said so far the talks have failed to bring an end to the conflict: ?They talk, but they also fight. Their leaders are talking (but) don?t have full control over their own commanders. The ceasefire agreement reached in May 2003 is not holding. The violations of the ceasefire are not being discussed. You can only have a good solution in political terms if you have a ceasefire that works. The international community should organize a better mechanism to monitor, to discuss, to address and to sanction violations.?