10 May 2006

World Must Act Urgently, so Historical Opportunity to Bring Peace to Darfur Not Lost, Says Secretary-General to Security Council

NEW YORK, 9 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement in the Security Council in New York, 9 May:

Let me thank you and all your ministerial colleagues who have made the effort to come to New York at such short notice for this meeting.  That the Council is meeting at this level, and so promptly, shows that you all realize what a historic opportunity we now have to bring peace to Darfur, and how urgently we need to act, if that opportunity is not to be lost.

Let me start by congratulating the Government of Sudan, and the faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement that signed the Abuja Peace Agreement last Friday.  It is they who have created this opportunity.

We must also commend the African Union Mediator, Salim Ahmed Salim, for his tireless efforts throughout the many rounds of negotiations; and Presidents Sassou Nguesso and Obasanjo, as well as their international partners -- Bob Zoellick, Hilary Benn and many others -- who deserve special mention for their decisive role in the final stages of the process.

But this is not a moment for anyone to bask in congratulations or rest on their hands.  Darfur is still far from being at peace -- as the events of yesterday have so tragically reminded us.  There is a vast amount to be done, and no time to lose.

First, there are significant rebel leaders who have not yet signed the Agreement.  We must all do what we can to convince them to choose peace over conflict, for the sake of their people.  If this tragedy continues, because of what they did, or failed to do, history will judge them severely.

Next, we must do everything in our power to ensure that those who have signed the agreement actually implement it on the ground, and that the people of Darfur can survive the next few months.  For that, they need both protection and sustenance -- since, driven from their homes and farms, they cannot feed themselves.  And sustenance means protection for those who are bringing them relief.

Right now, there is only one force on the ground that can even begin to provide protection: the African Union Mission in Sudan, or AMIS.  Therefore, our immediate priority must be to strengthen that force, so that it can move ahead with implementing essential elements of the agreement and providing real security for the displaced people.

But I believe we all now agree that this can only be a stopgap measure, and that, as soon as possible, AMIS must be transformed into a larger and more mobile United Nations operation, better equipped and with a stronger mandate.  We are now mobilizing all our energies to make that happen.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is working closely with the African Union and AMIS to help meet its immediate needs.  We have already dispatched staff to the region to work on this, and more will be going in the next few days.

We aim to agree as fast as possible, with our partners in the AU, on what additional resources AMIS will require to implement key points in the Abuja agreement, and then to hold a pledging conference, possibly in Brussels, in early June.  But I appeal to donors not to wait for that conference.  They need to be very generous, starting right now.  We cannot afford to lose a single day.

And I appeal to everyone in Darfur itself to help AMIS do its job.  Attacks like yesterday's, in which an AMIS interpreter was brutally killed, must not be encouraged, condoned or tolerated by any of the parties.

No less urgent is the need to raise more money for emergency relief.  Right now, the region is facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.  Without massive and immediate support, the humanitarian agencies will be unable to continue their work, which means that hundreds of thousands more will die from hunger, malnutrition and disease.

Meanwhile, we must, and will, speed up our planning for the transition to a UN operation in Darfur -- which was already requested by the Peace and Security Council of the AU, as long ago as 10 March, and authorised by the Security Council on 24 March, in its resolution 1663 (2006).

Let's not underestimate the challenge that this implies.  Helping to protect the people of Darfur and to implement the Abuja agreement will be one of the biggest tests this Organization has ever faced -- perhaps the biggest since those in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia in the early 1990s.  But it is a challenge we cannot refuse.  And, having accepted it, we cannot delay.

It is clear, from the work we have already done, that a follow-on United Nations force will have to be much bigger than the current AMIS force, and will need major logistical support from Member States that are in a position to provide it.

The next step is a technical assessment mission to Darfur itself.  During this, the UN and the AU will undertake a firsthand assessment of the situation on the ground, and will consult with Sudan's Government of National Unity, and with the other parties, on what is required to implement the peace agreement.  No peacekeeping mission can succeed without the support and cooperation of the parties, at the highest level.

Accordingly, I have written to President Bashir to seek his support for the assessment, and I hope very soon to be able to discuss it with him directly.  His support for this vital mission is essential.

Meanwhile, I appeal once again to all parties, and to the Government in particular, to show immediate respect for the ceasefire in Darfur and to prove, by their actions, their determination to honour the agreement they have signed.

For its part, the United Nations - by which I mean the Secretariat, but I count on the support of this Council -- will do everything in its power to help the Sudanese people close this tragic chapter in their history.

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