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Friday, October 06, 2006


Darfur in grave danger, says Annan

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday Darfur was close to a catastrophe, as the United States sought to rebuke Sudan for trying to scare off potential U.N. troop contributors.

Annan, in his monthly report on Sudan's vast Darfur region, said violence, rape and insecurity were on the rise, despite a peace agreement between the government and one rebel group.

"The region is again on the brink of a catastrophic situation," he wrote.

Fighting among armed rebels, militia and bandits has continued, despite the Khartoum government's decision to send more troops to Darfur. Khartoum has refused a U.N. takeover of the cash-strapped and struggling African Union force in Darfur.

"Unless security improves, the world is facing the prospect of having to drastically curtail an acutely needed humanitarian operation," Annan said.

The United States demanded that the Security Council respond to Sudan's warning that any nation pledging U.N. troops for Darfur was committing a "hostile act" and a "prelude to an invasion."

The warning came in an unsigned letter on Thursday from Sudan's U.N. mission to dozens of countries, many of whom attended a meeting on September 25 on potential pledges of troops to a U.N. force in Darfur.

"In the absence of Sudan's consent to the deployment of U.N. troops, any volunteering to provide peacekeeping troops to Darfur will be considered as a hostile act, a prelude to an invasion of a member country of the U.N," the letter said.

In response, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton circulated a draft statement, obtained by Reuters, that Security Council members will consider on Friday.

U.S. 'deplores' Sudan letter.

It says the council "deplores" the Sudan mission's attempt "to intimidate potential troop-contributing countries volunteering forces for a peacekeeping mission in Darfur."

"This aggressive gesture by Sudan directed at fellow member states challenges the will of the Security Council," which has authorized up to 22,500 troops and police for Darfur, and "is unacceptable behavior by a member state of the United Nations."

Bolton noted that the diplomatic note was inconsistent with a polite letter Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir wrote to Annan this week welcoming U.N. logistics and other support to the AU mission in Darfur.

The AU's under-financed 7,000 troops and monitors have been unable to stop the violence that has driven 2.5 million people from their homes and left at least 200,000 dead since 2003.

For the Security Council to adopt Bolton's statement, agreement is needed from all 15 members and Qatar, the only Arab delegation on the council, has consistently backed Khartoum.

Greece's U.N. Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, said he had also received the letter. "For me what is important is how we find a solution to save lives. That is the most important thing," Vassilakis said.

Asked if the letter was a threat to attack any U.N. soldier in Darfur, he said, "Before they do, they will think twice."

The U.N. peacekeeping department on September 25 organized a meeting to discuss troops for any future force in Darfur so the world body could move into Darfur as soon as Sudan agreed.

At the moment, the world body is trying to reinforce the African troops by sending 100 personnel to run communications and other equipment as a prelude to a U.N. operation.

Some diplomats as well as Jan Pronk, the top U.N. envoy in Sudan, have suggested that countries should push for a prolonged and beefed up African Union force.

But so far the Security Council and top U.N. officials have rejected this plan.

Written by CNN.

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