Annan urges action to end 'hell on earth' in Darfur
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called for immediate action on Wednesday to end what he termed a near hell on earth in Sudan's western Darfur region.
But African leaders warned against sending non-African troops to Darfur, where the United Nations estimates a two-year conflict between Sudan's government and rebels has killed at least 70,000 people and driven some 2 million from their homes.
Annan backed a call by President Bush's administration for a travel and assets freeze on those violating a ceasefire in Darfur.
He said the U.N. Security Council should consider a full range of options -- targeted sanctions, stronger peacekeeping efforts, new measures to protect civilians and pressure on all sides for a lasting political solution in the western region.
"While the United Nations may not be able to take humanity to heaven, it must act to save humanity from hell," Annan said at a meeting called to review a report submitted earlier this month by a U.N.-appointed commission on Darfur.
The report accused the Sudanese government and militias of "heinous crimes." It said rebels were responsible for serious crimes but its chief criticism was directed at the government's inability to stop marauding Arab militiamen.
"This report is one of the most important documents in recent history of the United Nations. It makes chilling reading. And it is a call to action," said Annan.
"The report demonstrates beyond all doubt that the last two years have been little short of hell on earth for our fellow human beings in Darfur."
AFRICAN UNION PEACE EFFORTS
The African Union (AU) has some 1,400 troops in Darfur and expects the force to eventually grow to more than 3,000.
Many see it as ill-equipped to stem the killings, prompting some talk of sending in peacekeeping troops from outside Africa.
But at a meeting in Chad's capital N'Djamena, African leaders, including Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, urged the international community not to send non-African troops to Darfur and not to impose sanctions.
"The heads of state called on the international community to continue to give its support to African efforts already under way and to abstain from all action which could harm these efforts, including the imposition of sanctions and all deployment of non-African forces," they said in a statement.
The talks in N'Djamena involved Bashir, his Chadian counterpart Idriss Deby, the leaders of Gabon and Congo Republic and AU Commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare.
The leaders called for a "total and definitive ceasefire" in Darfur and urged the AU to transform its mission into a real peacekeeping operation, respecting Sudan's sovereignty.
After years of tribal conflict over scarce resources, Darfur's rebels took up arms in February 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglect and giving preferential treatment to Arab tribes.
They say the government mobilized Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, to loot and burn non-Arab villages. The government says it recruited militias to fight the rebellion but not the Janjaweed, whom it has called outlaws.
Previous agreements to stop the fighting and disarm have been repeatedly flouted by both sides and there have been close to 100 confirmed truce violations since late last year.
Bashir said after the talks in Chad that he would respect all previous ceasefire accords.
"We want this problem to remain African, in the hands of the African Union, that the AU assumes its responsibilities and has the confidence of the international community," he said.
The U.N. Security Council is also considering trials for perpetrators of atrocities who have been named on a sealed list drawn up by the U.N.-appointed commission.
But Annan and Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said on Wednesday that any meaningful prosecution had to be handled by the International Criminal Court, an institution which Washington opposes.