US Urged to Press for UN Force in Darfur

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( ) - The United States is a leading supporter of peacekeeping efforts in Sudan's war torn Darfur region, but campaigners are urging more U.S. involvement in an area where the African Union (A.U.) says violence is worsening.

According to new A.U. estimates, at least 400,000 people have died and 2.5 million more have been displaced since conflict between two regional rebel groups and Khartoum started in early 2003.

"It is imperative that that the United States, having played an important role in enabling peace in South Sudan, equally focuses greater attention to the Dafur issue," said Peter Khor of the humanitarian Bahr-El-Ghazal Development Group.

"Some sort of sustained pressure is needed," he said.

Similar calls have come from the Washington-based lobby Africa Action, which urged the Bush administration to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution to "re-hat" a current E.U. peacekeeping mission as a U.N. operation "and to authorize a U.N. force to be deployed as soon as possible."

In its most recent report on the situation in Darfur, the African body called for greater international support for the peacekeeping and mediation efforts it is leading.

Violence was worsening, increasing numbers of people were being attacked and displaced, and humanitarian organizations faced increasing risks to their operations.

"There are new demands for a protection force to provide security to the region," it said.

International intervention was essential to stop the killings, rapes and pillaging; provide security for humanitarian programs for internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees; enforce a ceasefire; and facilitate the voluntary return of IDPs and reconstruction of their homes by providing a secure environment.

Currently the A.U. has 7,000 peacekeeping troops deployed in Darfur and is getting logistical support from the U.S. and European Union.

The U.S. is also one of the largest donors to the effort. This week, the State Department issued an urgent appeal to Congress to provide up to $75 million for peacekeeping operations.

The department said U.S. contributions were running about $8 million a month, and there was only enough funding to last through the end of the month.

The U.S. has accused Khartoum of abetting "genocide" in that region and proposed legislation is under consideration in Congress that would block the assets and deny entry into the U.S. of anyone "who the president determines is responsible, either by commission or omission, for acts of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity in Sudan."

The new calls for greater U.S. involvement come days after Human Rights Watch released a report charging that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and 20 other government and army officials and militia leaders should be investigated for ordering, condoning or carrying out atrocities.

The New York-based group said the report was based on eyewitness accounts, government papers and its own investigations.

Khartoum dismissed the report as "ridiculous" and "highly politicised."

"It depends on the propaganda and the campaigns of the rebel groups," said Mutrif Siddig, a Khartoum foreign ministry official.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who is gathering evidence for possible future prosecution of those responsible for the conflict said the insecurity in Darfur "prevents effective protection of victims and witnesses of ongoing violence ... hampering investigations."

The A.U. is hosting mediation talks in Nigeria between Khartoum and the two rebel groups, fighting for political and economic autonomy.

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