December 1st, 2006 02:55 EST
Darfur: Annan stresses that continued peacekeeping presence is essential
The world cannot afford to compromise on ensuring there is a continued peacekeeping presence in the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur that is as effective as possible, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told an African Union (AU) summit today.
In a message to a meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council in Abuja, Nigeria, Mr. Annan said the situation inside Darfur " where more than 200,000 are estimated to have been killed since fighting erupted in 2003 " remains so dire that no other option is palatable.
The magnitude of this crisis requires a force with a robust mandate and a sound concept of operations, " he said in a message delivered on his behalf by the Under-Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie GuÃ©henno.
About 220,000 people have been forced to flee their homes during the past six months, despite the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) in May, Mr. Annan said. Already an estimated 2 million people have become internally displaced or had to cross the border into neighbouring Chad because of fighting between Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups.
The Abuja summit is slated to discuss for a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, the last phase in a three-step process to assist and strengthen the current AU operation.
At a meeting in Addis Ababa earlier this month between the UN, the AU, Sudan, and representatives of Security Council members and other countries, participants agreed to the hybrid force.
It is expected to have about 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers, compared to the current AU force (known as AMIS) of 7,000.
Mr. Annan said he was hoping that the Abuja summit will produce decisions that can lead to the rapid implementation of the details of the agreement struck in Addis Ababa.
In New York, Mr. Annan`s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that the Secretary-General received a letter today from Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir specifying his Government`s response to several issues relating to the proposed hybrid force, and was waiting for it to be translated.
Meanwhile, in Geneva the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, announced today that the Council will devote a special session to the situation in Darfur immediately after the current regular session ends, probably around 11 or 12 December.
The special meeting on Darfur was requested by 29 of its 47 members " at least one third of members are needed for such a request to be approved.