U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says Sudan must accept a strong international peacekeeping force in its war-torn Darfur region. Mr. Ban made the comment in an exclusive VOA interview. Correspondent Peter Heinlein spoke to Mr. Ban, and reports the secretary-general is making preparations for eventual creation of a U.N.-backed hybrid peace mission.
Mr. Ban told VOA he is consulting with many African leaders to pressure Sudan to live up to an agreement reached with the United Nations and the African Union last November in Addis Ababa. He pointed to growing international frustration at the lack of progress in halting the violence in Darfur, and said he will push the issue further when he meets Arab leaders at a summit later this month in Saudi Arabia.
The three-phase Addis Ababa deal calls for Sudan to allow a so-called "heavy support" package of 3,000 well-equipped U.N. military police into Darfur. They would prepare the way for eventual deployment of a 21,000 - member hybrid force of U.N. and African Union troops. That force would replace the financially-strapped 7,000 - member AU mission currently in Darfur.
In a letter to Mr. Ban this month, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir appeared to renege on the Addis Ababa deal. But the secretary-general told VOA President Bashir must not be allowed to back out of the commitments made in Addis Ababa, and in an earlier Darfur peace agreement reached in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
"It was regrettable that President Bashir has made several reservations to my proposals to deploy a heavy support package and the hybrid peacekeeping operations," said Ban Ki-moon. "This proposal was done in close coordination with the African Union, in accordance with the Addis Ababa and Abuja agreements. This is something they must accommodate."
The secretary general says he will continue to press for a political solution in Darfur that will allow distribution of humanitarian aid to desperately needy people in the region. He has appointed former Swedish foreign minister and U.N. General Assembly president Jan Eliasson as his special envoy for the political process. Eliasson will be traveling to Khartoum for talks next week, along with the U.N. humanitarian aid chief, Undersecretary General John Holmes.
In the meantime, Mr. Ban says he is also moving ahead with preparations for the deployment of a military force.
"I have also proposed the nomination of the joint representative and the force commander," said UN secretary-general. "We have laid out all preparations so we will be able to contribute to the resolution of the Darfur issue."
At least 200,000 people have died since Darfur rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government in early 2003. Some scholars put the death toll far higher.
Human-rights activists accuse the government of responding by unleashing Arab tribal militias blamed for widespread atrocities against ethnic African villagers. The government denies the charge.
The United States and some human-rights groups say the atrocities amount to genocide.
More than 2.5 million people have fled their homes to escape the killing. Some of the violence has spilled over into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic, where many Darfurians are living in squalid refugee camps.