Churches Urge Swift Action on U.N. Peacekeepers in Darfur

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c. 2006 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) The All Africa Conference of Churches, the continent’s largest ecumenical agency, is calling on the Sudanese government to quickly approve the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the conflict-ridden Darfur region of Sudan.

It is a call echoed by religious and human rights groups and governments, including the United States.

The plea comes in the wake of the signing of a May 5 peace agreement between the government in Khartoum and the largest rebel group in Darfur. The deal, negotiated under intense U.S. pressure, remains a small and tentative first step in ending the conflict that has killed some 200,000 people and left 2 million homeless since 2003.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, repeating the Bush administration’s contention that genocide is taking place in Darfur, this week asked the U.N. Security Council to move quickly on moving U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.

“With the signing of the Darfur peace agreement, we really have an opportunity to help end the long nightmare that has befallen the people of Darfur,” Rice said Tuesday (May 9).

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned Tuesday that “Darfur is still far from being at peace.”

The conflict began when black Africans living in Darfur, complaining of neglect by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, revolted with hopes of more autonomy and a greater say in the government. The government sought to put down the revolt using Arab-based militias known as Janjaweed.

While aid groups hailed the May 5 accord, a number of factors suggest that peace remains a distant prize for Darfur.

Obstacles include the refusal of two other rebel groups to sign the accord and the difficulty of disarming both the Janjaweed and rebel militias. Additionally, it is uncertain whether Khartoum will allow a significant number of U.N. peacekeepers into the country, despite the urging of President Bush. It is also unclear whether the underlying causes of the conflict _ wealth and power-sharing _ can be addressed and implemented in a timely manner.

The conflict has already begun to spill over into neighboring Chad, where 200,000 Darfurians have sought refuge.

“We are convinced that as much as the Darfur crisis fuels the conflicts in Chad, the Chadian situation in turn fuels the Darfur crisis,” the African church leaders said in their statement on Monday.

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The peace agreement was also hailed by the Save Darfur Coalition, the major U.S. umbrella group organizing on the issue.

“Now that a peace deal exists on paper, we need to send in a United Nations peacekeeping mission to make sure that it becomes a reality on the ground in Darfur as well,” said the Rev. Gloria E. White-Hammond, chairwoman of the Coalition’s Million Voices for Darfur campaign.

But even if Khartoum agrees to allow in U.N. peacekeepers, it remains uncertain where the 14,000-15,000 troops will come from or how they will be financed.

“We hope the Sudanese government is better at making this peacekeeping deal stick than its previous agreements, but we cannot take it for granted,” White-Hammond said.

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Catholic Relief Services, which provides humanitarian aid for about 80,000 people a month, welcomed the agreement as a step toward providing the security necessary for the delivery of aid.

“The humanitarian effort is grinding to a halt because of increasing insecurity and a shortage of resources,” said CRS president Ken Hackett.

The fragility of the situation on the ground was underscored when the U.N.’s top humanitarian aid official was forced on Monday to cut short a visit to a camp for internally displaced refugees when a riot broke out during a demonstration calling for U.N. peacekeepers.

The camp, home to some 90,000 people, has been administered by the Norwegian Refugee Committee, but the Khartoum government expelled the camp coordinator in April, increasing tensions.

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Khartoum has allowed about 7,000 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur _ less than half the number of peacekeepers in Liberia in an area three times the size of Liberia.

The African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, hindered by limited resources and a weak mandate, by most accounts have been powerless to either end the violence or provide security for humanitarian aid workers.

While Bush has urged Khartoum to allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur, the administration has also been reluctant to put too much pressure on the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir because it has been an ally in the war on terror and has opened its extensive files on al-Qaida to Western intelligence agencies.

Khartoum is also a major exporter of oil, and the administration fears it could become a “failed state” such as Somalia.

KRE/JM END ANDERSON

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