U.N. May Take Control of Forces in Darfur

A top U.N. envoy on Sudan says the international community has failed to bring peace in Darfur. Now, the United Nations is making contingency plans to take over from an all-African force that has been, by most accounts, underfunded and understaffed.

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The international community has failed to bring peace to Darfur. That's the assessment of a top United Nations envoy to Sudan. The UN is now talking about taking over from the all-African force that is in Darfur now, and by most accounts, that force has been underfunded and understaffed. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

The African Union says its monitoring mission in Darfur will run out of money by March, and it's agreed in principle to hand over the command to the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says his aides have been doing contingency planning and think a more robust and mobile force is needed, which he says would require troops and logistics from the US and NATO. Jan Pronk, his envoy to Sudan, issued a blunt message to the UN Security Council today.

Mr. JAN PRONK (United Nations Envoy): And many people have paid lip service to the need for peace. Looking back at three years of killing and cleansing in Darfur, we must admit that our peace strategy so far has failed. All we did was picking up the pieces and muddling through, doing too little too late.

KELEMEN: Pronk said the situation in Darfur is chaotic. African Union troops have been targeted, and the perpetrators of what the US government has described as genocide roam freely.

Mr. PRONK: The perpetrators of 2003 and 2004 have reached their goal: Many areas have been cleansed. They have a free passage in the countryside. Millions of villagers sitting in camps are too afraid to leave.

KELEMEN: The US supports the idea of an eventual United Nations force for Darfur, though it's not likely to send in troops itself. The assistant secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, made clear today that she believes the UN should augment the African Union force, not replace it.

Ms. JENDAYI FRAZER (US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa): One of the key elements of President Bush's policy since 2001 is to support the capacity of the African countries and the African regional organizations to mediate conflicts and to carry out peacekeeping.

KELEMEN: Congress recently zeroed out a $50 million budget request for the African Union force in Darfur, but Frazer said the Bush administration is working around this and finding ways to offer financial support.

As diplomats debate what sort of force is needed in Darfur, one human rights group says the international community also has to think about the long-term needs of the millions of people displaced by the conflict. John Heffernan of Physicians for Human Rights put out a report this week that focused on three villages to show how Sudanese government-backed militias not only raped and killed, but also destroyed people's livelihoods by stealing cattle and burning homes.

Mr. JOHN HEFFERNAN (Physicians for Human Rights): We need to look at livestock. We need to look at the homes. We need to look at the possessions that were looted. Livestock is critical because that was their disposable income; that camel was like a car.

KELEMEN: So, he says, the United Nations has to think not just about immediate security needs, but also find some ways to compensate survivors for their losses if people are eventually to return to their villages. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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