UN, U.S, allies differ on Darfur violence reduction
MIXED reactions have trailed an international envoy's comment that violence in Sudan's Darfur region had subsided into a "low-intensity conflict." The United States (U.S.) and its allies, according to diplomats, faulted the remark and said the situation in the country was still far from achieving the desired peace.
Briefing the UN Security Council, the joint UN-African Union special representative to Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, said around 130-150 people were dying each month due to violence in Darfur, a region roughly the size of France.
"The situation has changed from the period of intense hostilities in 2003 to 2004 when tens of thousands of people were killed," Adada, according to Reuters, told the 15-member council. "Today, in purely numerical terms, it is a low-intensity conflict."
But he also said there was a "high risk of escalation."
"This risk of active war is ever present and it is my duty to warn this council about those hazards," Adada said.
Several council diplomats said U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who has publicly referred to the conflict in Darfur as "on-going genocide," disputed Adada's characterisation during a closed-door discussion after his briefing.
"The U.S. delegation took issue with the idea that it is a low-intensity conflict," a council diplomat said. Another diplomat said the French, British, Austrian and Mexican envoys also disagreed with Adada's description.
According to figures collected by the UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, some 2,000 people died from violence in the region during the 15 months between January 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009, one third of them civilians.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush's administration had referred to the situation in Darfur as "genocide in slow motion," saying many deaths resulted from disease, neglect and poor conditions in crowded refugee camps.
Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also support the U.S. view that Darfur is still in the throes of genocide orchestrated by the Khartoum government, a charge it rejects.
The council was discussing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's latest report on UNAMID, in which he warns that Khartoum's decision to expel 13 foreign and three domestic humanitarian aid organisations had put "over 1 million people at life-threatening risk" in Darfur.
Sudan's UN Ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, dismissed the report, saying the estimate was "a big lie."
Khartoum said it expelled the humanitarian aid agencies because they collaborated with the Hague-based International Criminal Court, which issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, last month.
The court charged Bashir with orchestrating mass killings and deportations across Darfur.
Ban's UNAMID report said there were just over 15,600 peacekeepers on the ground at the end of March, well below the force's mandated strength of 26,000.
"We think that by the end of the year, we could be almost at the full deployment of the mission," Adada told reporters after the meeting. But he said they still lacked crucial military hardware, above all helicopters to move troops quickly.
UN officials say as many as 300,000 people have died and more than 2.7 million driven from their homes in almost six years of ethnic and political violence. Some 4.7 million people rely on humanitarian aid. Khartoum says 10,000 have died.
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