Darfur Mandate Only a First Step, Says Christian Aid

LONDON – Christian Aid has welcomed African Union’s (AU) decision to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force in Darfur, Sudan, until the end of the year.

The announcement comes as the President of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, vowed he would never allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur and accused the West of wanting to dismember his country in order to help Israel.

“This is good news for the millions of displaced people in Darfur,” said Judith Melby, Christian Aid's Africa specialist. “But it is only a first step. For the force to be truly effective it must receive more troops, more logistical support and a stronger mandate.”

Fears that the situation in Darfur would deteriorate sharply arose as the AU force had been scheduled to leave at the end of September.

Already much of the region is off limits to humanitarian agencies and the violence has increased since a peace deal was reached between the government and one of the three main rebel groups in May 2006.

“The US and the UK are guarantors of the Darfur Peace Agreement and they must play their part in finding a solution to this bloody conflict,” said Melby. “In the first instance the AU force must be helped to be a viable peacekeeping force.

“The fate of millions of people depends on the force,” she continued. “It is a terrible indictment of the international community that, after the fanfare over the signing of the peace agreement, things have gone from bad to worse.”

Over recent weeks there have been reports that the government of Sudan has launched a new offensive to regain control of the region.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million residents of Darfur have been displaced since fighting broke out between rebels and government-backed Muslim militias in 2003.

The UN Security Council has passed a resolution calling for the deployment some 20,000 “blue helmet” troops to replace the AU force, but Khartoum has rejected the initiative.

“A year ago the member states of the UN committed themselves to a 'collective responsibility to protect' the peoples of the world even if this meant stepping in to protect them from their own government. The people of Darfur need and deserve protection,” said Melby.