Wed, Sep 05, 2007 - Page 6 News List

UN chief in Sudan to jumpstart peace process


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Sudan on Monday in a bid to jumpstart the peace process in strife-torn Darfur ahead of a massive joint UN-African Union (AU) peacekeeping operation.

Ban, who has made the Darfur conflict his top priority since taking office in January, will seek to ensure that the 26,000 strong UN-AU force can be deployed quickly to protect civilians who are bearing the brunt of violence.

He was scheduled to have a private dinner with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir before heading to Juba in southern Sudan yesterday and Al-Fasher in Darfur, returning to Khartoum tomorrow. He is then to head to Chad and Libya.

The pair were also to have a 30-minute, one-on-one meeting following the late dinner, but no UN or Sudanese briefing on their talks was scheduled for Monday night.

The deployment of the hybrid UN African-Union Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNAMID) force -- which will be the world's largest peacekeeping operation -- was agreed by the UN Security Council on July 31 after months of intense diplomacy.

But the full force is not expected to be on the ground before the middle of next year and reports of violence continue to emerge from the ravaged region the size of France.

"I want to know first-hand the plight of those we seek to help," Ban said ahead of his first visit to Sudan as UN chief.

"My goal is to lock in the progress we have made so far, to build on it so that this terrible trauma may one day cease," he said.

UN estimates show that more than 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million have been displaced in Darfur as a result of the combined effect of war and famine since the conflict erupted more than four years ago. But Khartoum disputes the figures and says only 9,000 people died.

"Now we have a historic opportunity. We must seize it," Ban said last week as he outlined a three-pronged action plan focusing on peacekeeping, political negotiations as well as humanitarian aid and development.

The UN secretary-general stressed that the massively complex UNAMID operation could not succeed without Khartoum's cooperation.

He said he would seek Bashir's "full support" during his three-day tour, which includes visit to Darfur for a first-hand look at "the very difficult circumstances under which our forces will operate".

Yesterday, Ban was to visit Juba, capital of south Sudan where a 10,000-strong UN force has overseen an uneasy peace between government troops and ex-rebels since the end of a 21-year-old civil war.

In Ndjamena, Ban is to confer with Chadean President Idriss Deby Itno, whose country has been reeling from a spillover of the fighting in Darfur.

Ban will then meet Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, whom he described as a key regional player in Darfur diplomacy, in Tripoli.

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