UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Saturday called for widening the responsibilities of African Union peacekeepers in Sudan's troubled Darfur region, saying the troops need to take a larger role in protecting the region's embattled civilians.
"The security situation in Darfur is not acceptable and as long as the situation there is not acceptable then one has to do more," Annan said at Khartoum airport after a day's visit to the region.
Annan said that African Union troops were doing a competent job, but that they would need a broader mandate as well as more resources to provide protection to the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by more than two years of ethnic violence.
Annan spent the day in Darfur where he visited the vast Kalma refugee camp in Nyala and a rebel-held area, Labadu, some 70km east of Nyala, where the security situation remains tense.
Only half of Labadu's 60,000 civilians have returned to the town after militia attacks there last year. The rest still live in camps.
Some told Annan they were too scared to return home.
Annan said the situation was better than last year but still needed vast improvement.
"What we need is to create a secure environment to encourage people to go back to plant and pick up their lives," Annan said.
The UN has called Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Annan went from the airport to a meeting with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, where Taha assured him that Khartoum is ready for peace talks next month aimed at relieving the emergency, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said.
Taha also assured Annan that Sudan agreed to allow the African Union to boost its role in protecting civilians in Darfur, Ismail said.
"We both agreed on the urgency to re-energize the peace negotiation in Darfur," Annan said.
Earlier on Saturday, Annan had been briefed by South Darfur Governor Al-Haj Atalmannan Idris on tribal reconciliation efforts aimed at restoring social cohesion and improving the life of the residents.
Annan said that he made clear to Idris that a humanitarian crisis could only be prevented if farmers were able to return to their land and plant, cultivate and harvest their crops.
Annan's three-day visit to Sudan followed his attendance at an international donors conference in Ethiopia, where participants pledged US$300 million in cash and more in kind to help the African Union expand its peacekeeping mission.
At least 180,000 people have died -- many from hunger and disease -- and about 2 million others have fled their homes in Darfur to escape the conflict, which erupted when rebels took up arms against what they saw as years of state neglect and discrimination against Sudanese of African origin.
The government is accused of responding with a counterinsurgency campaign in which Arab militiamen backed by the government known as Janjaweed committed wide-scale abuses against the African population.
Annan was to fly yesterday to the southern Sudanese city of Juba to assess the implementation of a peace agreement signed earlier this year between the government and rebels that ended a two-decade civil war.
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