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U.N. Says Darfur Truce in Peril

Refugee commissioner warns of a 'new, major tragedy' unless other nations keep up their pressure on the parties in the Sudanese conflict.

October 23, 2005|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — The head of the United Nations refugee agency has issued a warning that the cease-fire in Sudan's Darfur region is unraveling, which could lead to a catastrophic increase in deaths in coming weeks and spread instability in sub-Saharan Africa.

In remarks delivered here Friday and made available to The Times on Saturday, Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said he sees "a very serious degeneration of the situation" in Darfur. "People are dying, and dying in large numbers," he said.

According to the refugee agency, 2 million Sudanese have been displaced inside their country and an additional 200,000 have become refugees in neighboring Chad after rebels in the western region of Darfur rose up nearly three years ago, complaining of discrimination and lack of services. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in reprisals by government-backed Arab militias known as janjaweed, sparking one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters last year.

Guterres used the occasion of a U.N. event here to call attention to waning international pressure on the parties in the disputed region, where the pro-government forces have driven hundreds of thousands of Darfur residents from their homes.

The situation threatens to become much worse, and international aid workers, who have been attacked on the roads in the Darfur region in recent weeks, no longer can get around, making them unable to bear witness to what has been happening, he said.

"There is something fundamentally wrong in the world for those things ... to be going on, and on, and on, amidst a basic lack of interest from those who might do something," Guterres said. "If there is the engagement of the international community putting pressure mainly on the government of Sudan but also the rebels in the field, there will be a solution. The international community needs to be actively engaged for putting pressure so that things can be settled."

Peace talks to allow refugees and those displaced, mainly poor non-Arab farmers and herders, to return to their burned villages have faltered, and Darfur residents say they are still being victimized by massacres, rapes and thefts carried out by Sudanese troops and the Arab militias.

On Thursday, a sixth round of talks in Abuja, Nigeria, made little progress and was adjourned until November, Reuters news service reported.

Guterres said that as recently as two months ago, after peace negotiations between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and other rebels in the south bore fruit, he was optimistic that there was momentum for agreement in Darfur.

But, "instead of the Abuja talks leading clearly to a process of peace establishment, they have been stalling," Guterres said. "We don't know exactly what the government of Khartoum wants, and it is even not clear what the heads of the two [Darfur rebel] parties want. What we are witnessing on the ground is a very serious degeneration of the situation."

He described present-day Darfur as "extremely nasty, with ugly events."

"We are really close to a moment in which a new, major tragedy might occur in Darfur. And if a new, major tragedy occurs in Darfur, it will have a negative impact on the Sudanese situation as a whole," Guterres said. "It could have a tremendous impact with the neighbors.... Nobody can imagine what will occur in Chad if in Darfur a true civil war starts again."

The world powers have to be more involved, he said. "The crucial thing is the total commitment of people in the developed world, to help [make sure] that Darfurs do not happen again, and for the Darfurs still happening to see they are halted."

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