July 18, 2006 (BRUSSELS) — Donor states pledged some 200 million US dollars to sustain a cash-strapped African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan’s western Darfur region, while pressing Khartoum to let UN troops take over as soon as possible.
The new aid was agreed at an international conference on the war-ravaged region co-hosted by UN chief Kofi Annan, who called for urgent action to prevent more lives being lost.
The African Union welcomed the pledge, even though it was less than half its estimate of the cost of running an AU peacekeeping force in Darfur until the end of the year.
“We are moving in the right direction,” said European Union Aid Commissioner Louis Michel, announcing the aid figure after the day-long conference in Brussels.
Annan warned that the world had to act quickly. “We now have a precious window of opportunity to end this cruel conflict. But unless we leap through that window now it will very soon close,” he told the conference.
The African Union sent troops to Darfur in 2004 — a force which now numbers around 7,000 personnel — but the peacekeeping mission has struggled to contain the violence, despite a peace accord signed in Abuja, Nigeria in May this year.
And there are warnings that the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) could run out of funds as soon as next month, while plans to replace it with a UN force have been resisted by the Sudanese government.
“Donors need to press Khartoum to agree to a UN deployment, and they need to pledge generous support to give the AU forces more means to protect civilians right now,” said Peter Takirambudde of Human Rights Watch.
The conflict in Darfur between rebels and militias backed by Sudanese government troops has left some 300,000 people dead and displaced more than two million others since 2003.
AU leaders agreed at a summit in Gambia early this month to extend their peacekeeping force until the end of the year to allow the UN to finalise its preparations to deploy in the vast troubled region.
Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir has so far refused to allow a UN force into the region, despite repeated requests from the UN Security Council, the AU and the Arab League.
But AU chief Alpha Oumar Konare said that the Sudanese government — which was represented in Brussels by Foreign Minister Lam Akol Ajawin — had been told clearly what was at stake.
“The Sudanese delegation perfectly understood what the concerns were,” he said.
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer underlined that Washington was only currently planning to contribute to the AU force until the end of September.
“The United States feels very seriously that the key here is to move foward with the transition to the United Nations,” she said.
A group of eight agencies — CARE International, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief, Oxfam International and Tearfund — warned participants that every day counted.
“While an enormous amount of energy is being spent debating what will happen in six months time, no one seems to have noticed that people are still being killed today,” said Denis Caillaux of CARE International.
Annan added that the African force “has performed valiantly, in very difficult conditions. But it must now be better resourced and empowered to perform its critical work. Unless it is, the peace agreement will be jeopardized, and no one in Darfur will be secure.”