Darfur headed for humanitarian calamity

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON – Darfur is headed for a humanitarian calamity unless Sudan’s Khartoum-based government ends renewed fighting in the western region and allows a U.N. peacekeeping force in, Britain said on Thursday.

Hours ahead of a U.N. Security

Council vote on a U.S.-British resolution proposing up to 22,500 U.N. troops for Darfur, British Foreign Office Minister David Triesman said the humanitarian crisis there had reached a decisive moment.

Rebels have reported renewed fighting in the north of the region in the last two days between the government and rebel groups who refused to sign a May peace accord.

“The chances of the humanitarian and food distribution operations working in an environment where war has broken out again are very, very poor indeed,” Triesman said.

“We were in a bad situation two days ago. We are rapidly going towards a calamity.”

To date Sudan has refused to allow the United Nations to replace or absorb a 7,000-strong African Union force in Darfur which has only enough money to exist until its mandate expires on Sept. 30 and has been unable to stop a humanitarian crisis.

Fighting, disease and hunger has killed tens of thousands of people and driven some 2.5 million others into squalid camps. In recent months, rebels are reported to have turned to banditry and violence against civilians.

“The vital thing to say is that this resolution does address the international humanitarian catastrophe and it does address the security issues which would make it possible to do something about that catastrophe,” Triesman said.

The U.N. resolution’s success is contingent on Khartoum’s consent for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers. But the government’s dominant National Congress Party has branded the resolution an exercise in Western colonialism.

The AU and opposition politicians in Sudan mostly support a U.N. transition in Darfur.

However, opposition members say the NCP fears U.N. troops will arrest officials likely to be indicted by the International Criminal Court investigating war crimes allegations in Darfur.

Triesman was adamant that the resolution was no threat to Sudan’s government.

“This is very strongly about the UN providing the security in which the humanitarian effort can succeed.

The Darfur conflict started in February 2003, when non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government, claiming the region was being marginalised. In response, the government mobilised Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who have been accused of murder, rape and looting. — Reuter