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To save Darfur, add your voice to mine

September 16, 2006|Kofi A. Annan | KOFI A. ANNAN is secretary-general of the United Nations.

TOMORROW, SEPT. 17, people around the world will be taking part in a "Global Day for Darfur" to show support for the people of Darfur and to put pressure on governments to protect innocent civilians. They are right, and I hope their call will be heard.

The glimmer of hope that many of us felt when the Darfur peace agreement was signed four months ago -- albeit by only two of the warring parties -- is being extinguished by renewed fighting among the factions. In violation of the agreement, the Sudanese government has sent thousands of troops to Darfur and renewed its bombing.

I strongly condemn this escalation. The government of Sudan should stop its offensive immediately. All parties should perform what they have promised and abide by the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

These latest clashes have brought yet more misery to the people of Darfur, who have already endured far too much. The total number of displaced people stands at 1.9 million. Nearly 3 million people depend on international aid for food, shelter and medical treatment, while aid workers have increasingly become the targets of violence -- 12 have been killed just in the last two months.

A year ago, world leaders meeting at the U.N. agreed that all states have the responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The government of Sudan, if it fails in this sacred responsibility, will face opprobrium and disgrace throughout the world. Neither those who decide such policies nor those who carry them out should imagine that they will not be held accountable.

Once again, I urge Sudan to avoid this by accepting the Security Council's decision to deploy a U.N. peacekeeping operation, which would be better equipped and funded than the current African Union mission and have a clearer mandate to protect those in danger.

About 10,000 U.N. troops are already in Sudan. For more than a year, they have been helping to implement the peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan. On Aug. 31, the Security Council, while reaffirming its commitment to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Sudan, authorized the deployment of up to 17,300 additional troops to Darfur to implement the peace agreement. There is no hidden agenda, no other ambition than to help the people of Darfur to live in peace and in dignity. But the government of Sudan has refused.

Putting the extra U.N. troops in place will in any case take time. Therefore, the Security Council also called for strengthening the African Union mission, or AMIS, so that it can carry on until the U.N. arrives. The Africans have repeatedly asked for this transition but say that in the meantime their troops, who have performed valiantly in very difficult conditions, need help.

The U.N. has agreed to support AMIS during the crucial transition period. But AMIS will also need increased support from donors -- including the League of Arab States, which has offered vital backing and wants AMIS to stay until the end of the year.

I have tried repeatedly to explain the transition to the government of Sudan and to clear up any misconceptions or myths. In public and in private I have stressed the humanitarian situation and appealed to the government's own pragmatic good sense.

But my voice is not enough. Whoever, in Africa or beyond, is in a position to influence the government of Sudan must do so without delay.

The Security Council, and especially its five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- have a particular responsibility to ensure that the message to the government of Sudan is strong, clear and uniform. But every voice raised makes a difference, and therefore the responsibility is shared among us all. I urge everyone to join their voices with mine in asking the government of Sudan to embrace the spirit of the Security Council's resolution, to consent to the transition and to pursue the political process with new energy.

There can be no military solution to the crisis in Darfur. All parties should have understood by now, after so much death and destruction, that only a political agreement -- in which all stakeholders are fully engaged -- can bring real peace to the region.

Twelve years ago, the United Nations, and the world, failed the people of Rwanda in their time of need. Can we now, in all conscience, stand by and watch as the tragedy deepens in Darfur?

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