Thursday, August 19, 2004

The United Nations is seeking to disarm both rebels and government-backed militias in Darfur, a senior U.N. official says.

Francis Deng, the representative of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, recently returned from a visit to the western Sudanese region.

The “most difficult area” in establishing security, Mr. Deng told a Washington conference this week, was dealing with the militia called Janjaweed, which has killed thousands of Sudanese.

The Janjaweed has been backed by the government and “played a critical role in encountering the attacks of the rebels,” Mr. Deng said.

As a result, “it is difficult” today for the government to “neutralize” the members of the militia.

Even if the government succeeded in disarming the Janjaweed, “that would create a situation of imbalance,” giving an advantage to the rebel groups, Mr. Deng said. That is why he emphasized disarmament on both sides.

Before taking up calls by some nations for sanctions against the Sudanese government, the U.N. Security Council has given Sudan a deadline to demonstrate it has improved security for more than 2 million affected people.

“Today, the international response to Darfur has been appallingly weak,” said John Prendergast, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

“The council will have to make a decision on what to do 12 days from now,” Mr. Prendergast told the conference sponsored by Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on Wednesday.

At least two-thirds of the people threatened by a campaign of ethnic cleansing of non-Arabs in Darfur are not receiving the aid they need, Mr. Prendergast said.

“The U.N. has to step up,” he said. “This is a Kofi Annan issue.”

Mr. Prendergast said more peacekeeping troops will be needed, in addition to those already promised.

This has to be “an international request to protect, rather than an international intervention,” he said. He also called for a general arms embargo, a “negotiation architecture” with the Sudanese government, and for more funds.

Earlier this week, Nigeria agreed to send up to 1,500 troops as a protection force.

Darfur is a western region of Sudan with a racially complex population. It experienced violent conflicts over water, land and cattle in the early 1980s.

In early 2003, fighting broke out between the government and two rebel groups called the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement.

An estimated 50,000 people have been killed in Darfur and 1 million driven from their homes. Some 200,000 have escaped to neighboring Chad.

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