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Archive for Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Humanitarian chief warns of Darfur catastrophe

May 31, 2006

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— The United Nations humanitarian chief warned Tuesday of a catastrophic situation developing in Darfur unless international donors act soon to bolster a beleaguered African peacekeeping force in the Sudanese province.

"We either get good news in the next few weeks, or we have catastrophic news later," Jan Egeland told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

He said a major international conference would be convened in June somewhere in Europe to try to boost humanitarian aid and assistance for the peacekeepers.

Egeland was in Brussels to meet top officials at NATO and the European Union. He said military powers should provide more resources to improve transport, communications, logistics, training and planning for the African peacekeepers.

However, he warned against deploying a Western military force, as some politicians in the United States have suggested.

A 7,300-member African Union force in place in Darfur has been largely unable to halt violence there despite a May 5 peace deal designed to end fighting that has killed nearly 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million since 2003.

NATO and the EU have provided airlift, training and other backup for the peacekeepers and have offered more help to bolster the African Union troops before they are due to hand over to a U.N. force in September.

Egeland said the Africans need more trucks and helicopters to move swiftly around the vast region. He said African nations also needed to provide more and better-trained troops and said the African Union should urgently bolster the force's mandate so it could better protect the local population.

"The African Union force has to be strengthened, it's them that we have to empower," Egeland insisted.

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