Sun, Jun 03, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Ban pans AU's Darfur concerns

FITS AND STARTS The South Korean head of the UN said he believed that 'some progress, even though slow,' has been made in solving the volatile region's problems


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was "unfortunate" that the African Union (AU) has problems with a proposal for a 23,000-member AU-UN force to help end the bloodshed in Darfur that was given to the Sudanese government for approval.

The UN announced on May 24 that the AU and UN had agreed on the proposal for the hybrid force and it was handed to Sudan's UN Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad.

He said on Thursday that Sudan agreed to technical talks on the proposal from June 5 to June 6 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and UN officials said on Friday they expect the meeting to go ahead.

But the final text of the proposal is being discussed again to try to address the AU's concerns. The main problem is that the original text says the UN will have overall command and control of the hybrid force and the AU wants joint control, UN diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are private.

"There was very close consultation between the African Union and the United Nations on this joint proposal," Ban told reporters after briefing the Security Council. "We are now working to have clarifications on some elements of the draft."

"It was unfortunate that the African Union has come back with some changes after the Security Council has adopted and issued a presidential statement. But I think on the basis of a spirit of cooperation and unity in working and addressing this Darfur situation, I am confident that the African Union and the UN will find common understanding on this issue," he said.

The presidential statement adopted last Friday by the council welcomed the transmission of the proposal for the hybrid force to Sudan and urged all parties to meet their obligations.

The hybrid force is the third and final phase of a package that the UN and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir agreed to last November. Since then, however, al-Bashir has backtracked on accepting UN troops and approval of the hybrid force remains a question mark.

The four-year conflict between ethnic African rebels and pro-government janjaweed militia in the vast western Darfur region has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.

A beleaguered, 7,000-member AU force has been unable to stop the fighting. Neither has a peace agreement that was signed a year ago by the government and one rebel group.

After five months of stalling, the Sudanese president gave the go-ahead for the second phase in mid-April -- a "heavy support package" with 3,000 UN troops, police and civilian personnel along with six attack helicopters and other equipment.

Ban said the entire international community "has been frustrated many times over the lack of progress" in ending the Darfur conflict.

But he said that since taking over as secretary-general in January, he believes he has made "some progress, even though slow," including agreement on the heavy support package and preparing the hybrid proposal.

Ban said he spoke to al-Bashir in the past few days and "he is also committed to see early resolution of this issue."

On the political front, the secretary-general said, UN envoy Jan Eliasson was trying to arrange a "pre-negotiation phase" with rebel groups this month and next month.

"I hope that before August we will be able to enter into the negotiation phase in political dialogue," Ban said.

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