London The leaders of Britain and France pledged Friday to step up pressure on their allies to help end the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, saying it is crucial to quickly deploy more peacekeepers and maintain the threat of sanctions against combatants on both sides.
In a joint newspaper article published in London and Paris, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said there is a "gap between the efforts pursued by the international community and the dramatic situation that remains on the ground."
Brown and Sarkozy, who both took office in May, have made it a key foreign policy objective to end the Darfur conflict, which has killed more than 200,000 people in 4 1/2 years and uprooted 2.5 million.
The leaders said they would use next month's U.N. Security Council meeting, presided over by France, to press their campaign.
A month ago, the council unanimously adopted a U.N. resolution introduced by Britain and France calling for the swift formation of a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force of U.N and African Union troops. But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Thursday that deployment was being delayed by a lack of aviation, transport and logistics units.
In an article published in The Times of London and France's Le Monde, Brown and Sarkozy said they hoped the joint force could be deployed "in the next few weeks." If deployed fully, it would be the largest peacekeeping operation in the world.
The leaders stressed that their resolution authorizing the force was "not the end but just the starting point of the international efforts we must mount to stop the killing and to bring peace to this troubled region."
"It is the combination of a cease-fire, a peacekeeping force, economic reconstruction and the threat of sanctions that can bring a political solution to the region - and we will spare no efforts in making this happen," they said.
Sarkozy and Brown said they would send ministers to Sudan within days to hold talks, but Britain's Foreign Office declined to specify the details.
The conflict in Darfur began in February 2003, when ethnic African tribes rebelled against what they consider decades of neglect and discrimination by the Arab-dominated central government.
Sudan's government is accused of retaliating by unleashing militiamen based in nomadic Arab tribes to attack civilians - a charge it denies.