Diplomatic efforts to persuade Sudan to admit United Nations peacekeepers to Darfur intensified on Thursday, as Britain introduced a draft Security Council resolution that could lead to the deployment of up to 20,000 UN troops and police in the troubled region.
The draft resolution came as the Security Council met to discuss the continuing violence in Darfur, despite a peace agreement signed in May by the government and one of the three main rebel groups.
Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, has continued to oppose the deployment of a UN force in Darfur, although there are 10,000 UN peacekeeping troops assigned to support a peace agreement in the south of the country.
The draft resolution would require the consent of President Bashir for the force to be deployed to Darfur, but is seen as a way of increasing the pressure on him to do so. It proposes extending the ex-isting UN mission in Sudan – Unmis – to cover Darfur as well, and giving its military commander the ability to move troops between the two regions as required.
Since May, most of the violence in Darfur has involved rival rebel factions, while pro-government militias remain active, despite the presence of 7,000 African Union troops tasked with protecting civilians.
Human rights groups say the African Union force has been largely ineffectual in ending the violence, while its member countries have complained that the force is underfunded and ill-equipped. The force has also lost credibility among the more than 2m people forced from their homes and has been accused of bias by insurgents.
Under the draft resolution, the African Union force would be transferred to the UN’s authority by the end of September, with UN members providing additional logistical and transport support that would increase its ability to move across a region the size of France.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both urged the UN to approve a force capable of protecting civilians in Darfur, and criticised President Bashir’s opposition to the force. Amnesty said yesterday that government aircraft were continuing to bomb groups opposed to the May peace agreement, in defiance of a UN ban on offensive military flights.
The conflict erupted in February 2003, when rebels from Darfur’s African tribes took up arms against the government, claiming their region was being marginalised. In response, the government mobilised Arab militias, which have been accused of some of the worst atrocities and continue to roam the region.
Meanwhile, the rebels have split into numerous factions and the fighting often turns into banditry, creating an environment that would pose enormous challenges for any peacekeeping force.