RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
The government of Sudan has caved in to international pressure and agreed in principle to allow the U.N. to deploy peacekeepers to its Darfur region. The size of the force and the timetable for its deployment have yet to be determined pending further discussions with the Sudanese government.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says most of the peacekeepers will come from the African continent.
KOFI ANNAN: The peacekeeping force will have a predominantly African character. The troops should, as far as possible, be sourced from African countries. It is agreed in principle that pending clarification of the size of the force, we should be able to take it forward.
MONTAGNE: We go now to NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who's long been following this crisis. And Sudan has consistently opposed U.N. involvement in Darfur. Why the change, Ofeibea?
OFEIBEA QUIST: That's a good question. And of course, this is an agreement in principle, so on paper. But the Sudanese negotiators at the talks, which included the U.S., Britain, the EU and a raft of African countries as well as the U.N., say they need to find out from their government whether it agrees to it.
In the past, what the Sudanese government has said is that any sort of United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur would be tantamount to near colonialism and an imperialist violation of its sovereignty. Now it's saying in principle that it agrees to this hybrid force.
So the African Union soldiers who are already on the ground but totally under- resourced and unable to protect either the millions of civilians who are vulnerable in Darfur or the humanitarian workers who are trying to help them. But of course, we haven't had a commitment - we've had a commitment from the Sudanese government, but not the okay that it's actually going to happen. There's no timetable, and there's no agreement on how many additional forces will be allowed in.
MONTAGNE: And the U.N.'s humanitarian chief cut short a visit this week to Darfur. Jan Egeland left saying the situation there is the worst he's seen yet.
QUIST: The Sudanese government couldn't even guarantee his security. He says that humanitarian work has been more or less paralyzed in Darfur. You have overseas relief agencies who are saying they're not being allowed to work. Some have even left the country, and of course, that leaves the civilians exposed.
Now we're talking about a three-year war here that has involved the Sudanese government and rebels who say the Darfur region had been totally marginalized. The government, although it denies that it allowed these Arab Janjaweed forces to fight the rebels and to target civilians. They are the ones said to be responsible for most of the atrocities.
But now you have civilians who are even more vulnerable than they were before. Almost quarter of a million dead, millions displaced, and millions being displaced again, and this war now spilling over the borders into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. So we're being told that this is becoming a destabilizing force in Darfur and now one that threatens to blossom into a regional war.
MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, thanks very much. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking from Kinshasa, Congo.
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