Wed, Jun 23, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Get off my back and help Sudan: Annan

FRAGILE PEACE The UN secretary-general said the plight of millions of Sudanese would not be alleviated by member states looking for alibis to cover their inaction

AP , UNITED NATIONS

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned UN member states not to use him as an excuse for their own inaction in helping to protect more than 1 million people caught up in fighting in western Sudan.

He again raised the possibility of international intervention to help protect civilians in Darfur where Arab militias, believed to be backed by the government, have been attacking the black African population.

"It is the responsibility of the government to protect but if the government can't do it, it should be prepared to ask for the help of the international community to assist them," Annan said on Monday. "And the international community must insist that these people be protected."

The UN was strongly criticized for its failure to prevent the 1994 Rwanda genocide. In an interview with UN Radio and UN Television on the launch of a new radio program for Africa, Annan said it wasn't "entirely fair" to say the UN is doing too little too late in the Darfur crisis.

"What is needed here is a collective action and the political will to act," he said.

"We should avoid the situations where we allow member states to hide behind the secretary-general, use him as an alibi for their own inaction," Annan stressed.

Annan is planning to visit Sudan soon to make a first-hand assessment of the situation in Darfur, where the UN said recently the number of people in acute need of food and medical help has nearly doubled from 1.2 million to 2 million.

"I think it is important that we work together and demand action by the Sudanese government and we pool our efforts to make resources available for the humanitarian activity. And it's much better to act than start pointing fingers," Annan said.

He said he had been talking to the Sudanese government but "other countries with influence must also weigh in."

"It was because of my pressure that they opened up and offered visas, not only to the UN, but also to the humanitarian agencies and have indicated they will allow supplies and equipment to come in unimpeded," Annan said.

But UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said the Sudanese government was still holding up some visas and impeding the delivery of some aid and equipment.

Last week, Annan said the UN had asked the Sudanese government to take steps to contain the Arab militias, known as Janjaweed. He said the government denies any complicity in the militia attacks, "but from all accounts they can do something about the Janjaweed."

While the crisis in Darfur continues, an agreement ending a 21-year civil war between government forces and rebels in southern Sudan is expected to be finalized shortly.

Annan warned that "unless we deal with the situation in Darfur this is going to be a fragile peace."

"You cannot have a comprehensive peace in Sudan without dealing with the situation in the west," he stressed.

Earlier this month, the Security Council adopted a resolution allowing the UN to start planning to send peacekeepers to monitor implementation of the agreement in the south once it is finalized.

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