United Nations, 6 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- For the second time in a week, the UN Security Council heard experts report on dire conditions in western Sudan and the poor response of the government in Khartoum.
The UN special envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, told the council the government of Sudan has not responded to calls to stop attacks by Arab militias against civilians and disarm the militias.
He echoed last week's report by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour that the militias are preying on displaced civilians. But council efforts now appear to be focusing on the deployment of African Union peacekeepers rather than pressing for sanctions on Sudan.
About 50,000 people have died in the crisis and the UN says an increasing number of civilians in Darfur are exposed to dangerous conditions.
Pronk said the total number of people affected by the conflict has risen to 2 million. "That figure may rise to 3 or 4 million if the civil war continues and renders domestic agriculture and domestic food production impossible," he said. "These are staggering figures, demanding a serious effort, not ad hoc, not short-term, but sustained."
UN officials are emphasizing the importance of both the African Union deployment -- not likely before year's end -- and political talks between the government and rebels. Pronk called for a comprehensive political solution and said the accord to resolve a separate conflict in the south should be used as a template to solve the Darfur conflict.
The international community, he said, must pressure the Sudanese government to change its policies. He said it should be encouraged to bring into the political process rebel movements, tribal leaders, opposition groups, civil society, and women's groups.
"Aim not at regime change but at regime character change. Make a change of character of the regime in the interest of the regime itself, which then will be embedded in a new structure together with all other forces in Sudan which hitherto were excluded," Pronk said.
Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, Elfatih Erwa, acknowledged problems in compliance with UN demands but cited rebel violations of a cease-fire agreement as a major factor. "If we observe the cease-fire I think there will be a better security environment that will let the commitments of the government regarding the security issues be implemented," Erwa said.
"People are dying on a daily basis in Darfur and the issue is to act as quickly as we can to save people's lives."
Erwa told reporters his country had agreed to accept at least 3,500 African Union troops and possibly more if the regional group requested.
The U.S. government has described the abuses in Darfur as genocide. U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Danforth said yesterday that the focus now is on expediting the deployment of African Union troops. He pledged U.S. logistical assistance to the force.
"People are dying on a daily basis in Darfur and the issue is to act as quickly as we can to save people's lives. By the way, that includes full funding of the humanitarian effort. Now, the humanitarian effort is much better than it has been but still only [about] half of it has been funded, the commitments, so the world has to step up to its obligations," he said.
The Security Council meeting took place as a high-level Iranian delegation arrived in Khartoum for talks on the crisis.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami delivered a speech to the Sudanese parliament congratulating Sudan for reaching peace in the south. According to wire service reports, Khatami also expressed his confidence that the Sudanese government "is capable of demonstrating once again its prudence and determination for reaching a peaceful settlement to this crisis" in Darfur.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi flew to Darfur yesterday to see the situation there and to attend the delivery of humanitarian aid sent by Iran.