US insists it still working on Darfur peace


Aug 8, 2006 (WASHINGTON ) — The United States insisted that it was still working intensively to get a UN peacekeeping force into Sudan’s embattled Darfur region a day after the United Nations warned of increasing violence and suffering in the area.

A_Nigerian_AU_soldier.jpg“We have been pushing this, we do push it every single day,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said amid suggestions Washington had been neglecting the Darfur crisis as it grapples with the Israeli-Lebanon war and other international problems.

Up to 300,000 people have died and another 24 million displaced since a rebellion broke out in Sudan’s western Darfur region in February 2003.

The government and one rebel faction signed a peace agreement in May, but Khartoum has yet to accept the deployment of a UN force to halt continuing violence in Darfur both by rebel groups and pro-government militia.

McCormack welcomed the appointment Monday to a senior government position of the leader of the only Darfur rebel group to have signed the peace deal, Minni Minnawi, as well as the creation of a government commission to explore letting UN peacekeepers into Darfur.

But he said Washington, and in particular Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was pushing for faster action by the Sudanese government to let UN peacekeepers replace an African Union (AU) contingent which has failed to restore stability in the region.

“The political process is moving forward, which ultimately will be the basis for a resolution to all the variety of conflicts in Sudan,” McCormack said.

“Now, that said, do we want the peacekeeping part of this to move faster, transition from purely AU force to a blue-helmeted force? Yes, we do, and we’re working on that every single day,” he said.

“It is a matter of continuing concern for the people at the State Department, a matter of continuing concern for the secretary. It’s something that she watches closely,” he said.

McCormack’s remarks came a day after the United Nations expressed alarm at mounting violence in Darfur, where it said more aid workers have been killed in the past two weeks than in the two previous years.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the attacks posed a serious threat to aid workers.

Eight humanitarian workers died in Darfur in July and “operational risks for aid workers are increasing by the day,” read an OCHA statement.

It said the violence has been accompanied by an increase in hijackings of aid group vehicles, attacks on cars and attempted ambushes.