September 7th, 2007 01:54 EST
Ban Ki-moon, Darfur peace talks to begin
Fresh peace talks to resolve the deadly conflict that has engulfed Darfur since 2003 will start next month in Libya, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today in the Sudanese capital as he urged all parties to immediately cease hostilities and commit to the negotiation process.
Speaking to the press in Khartoum, after a meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Mr. Ban said the talks in Tripoli, Libya, on 27 October will be led by the United Nations and African Union (AU) Special Envoys to Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, who will work closely with the countries of the region.
Mr. Ban, who has made resolving the Darfur conflict a priority of his administration, said he expected all parties to do much more than cease their hostilities and participate in and commit to the outcome of the negotiations. He urged them to also achieve a political solution to the crisis and to help create a secure environment that is conducive to negotiations.
“There must be an end to violence and insecurity, a strengthened ceasefire supported by the incoming Hybrid Operation [an AU-UN peacekeeping force to be known as UNAMID], as well as an improvement in the humanitarian situation and greater prospects for development and recovery for the people of Darfur,” he said.
More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur and at least 2.2 million others forced to flee their homes because of fighting between rebel groups, Government forces and notorious allied militia known as the Janjaweed. The conflict has sparked a humanitarian crisis that has left millions dependent on aid.
The UN and the Sudanese Government issued a joint communiqué today following Mr. Ban’s visit to the country in which Khartoum pledged to cease hostilities in Darfur, participate constructively in the renewed negotiations and to work with the UN and the AU to ensure the timely deployment of UNAMID.
The Government also committed to work with the humanitarian community to ensure that essential relief services reach those in need in Darfur and to intensify its efforts to improve inter-communal relations across the country.
In addition, Khartoum promised to do its utmost to implement the January 2005 comprehensive peace agreement that ended the separate, long-running north-south civil war and to holding free and fair elections in Sudan in 2009.
The UN pledged to deploy UNAMID as quickly as possible and to do as much as it can to promote peace and stability in Darfur and to support the comprehensive peace agreement and better north-south relations.
Mr. Ban, who now travels to Chad and Libya on this trip, said his first-ever visit to Sudan – which included meetings with Sudanese Government officials, aid workers, UN staff, civil society groups, tribal leaders and internally displaced persons (IDPs) – had been highly productive.
“We have taken a big step toward our shared goal of bringing peace to Darfur and long-term development of Sudan,” he said, referring to the joint communiqué, and adding later that it was time for everyone to “seize this moment” to attain peace in Darfur and stability in southern Sudan.
The Secretary-General said his visit yesterday to Al Salaam camp, which is home to about 45,000 IDPs, left him “shocked and humbled. My heart went out to them. I wanted to give them a sign of hope that their lives might soon get better. I am resolved – completely resolved – that our work here will make this happen.”
Earlier today, Mr. Ban also held talks with Foreign Minister Lam Akol; the former Darfurian rebel and now Senior Assistant to the President, Minni Minawi; the Speaker of the National Assembly; other parliamentarians; and senior Government officials.
He concludes his four-day visit to Sudan with a reception tonight in Khartoum hosted by the Foreign Ministry.