The war in Iraq is dissuading the international community from intervening in the growing crisis in Darfur, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said today.
Mr Annan said the UN Security Council supported the African Union, which is in the process of sending in 4,500 troops into the troubled western Sudanese region.
“The international community has been reluctant to send another force to Sudan, another Islamic country.
“There is a feeling in the Arab world that one is going to repeat what has happened in Iraq, regardless of the objectives and intentions.
“There is this sense among the membership that it is best to send in African troops.”
Mr Annan was speaking after delivering the Tip O’Neill lecture at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus in Derry on the UN’s efforts to build peace around the world.
He said the world had a responsibility to give the African Union all the support it needed to intervene in a crisis which has seen 1.5 million people displaced during a 20-month civil war.
The UN World Health Organisation estimated that 70,000 people displaced by the conflict had died of disease.
The Khartoum government has been accused of aiding militia groups to massacre thousands of civilians, a charge it denies.
Asked about the potential for a clash between the West and the Islamic world, Mr Annan said political and religious leaders must redouble their efforts to resolve the Middle East and Iraq conflicts.
Mr Annan said that many Muslims felt they were being singled out and discriminated against because of their religion.
“The two conflicts appear to have converged and they see this every day on their televisions and tend to think this is an assault on Islam,” he said.
“If we are able to deal with these two issues we can see this feeling dissipate but we need to reach out and talk to each other, we need to get across that Islam is not represented by the terrorist.”
During his lecture, the Secretary General said the Northern Ireland peace process was a source of inspiration to the rest of the world.
Mr Annan, who was accompanied by Foyle MP and Nobel Laureate John Hume, said people in the North were managing their problems better than in the past.
“For some years now, you have been spared the large-scale violence and terror that used to disfigure your beautiful part of the country and seemed to blight its future.
“Your efforts to create a better world for your children have been a source of inspiration and hope to people in many other countries.
“If the world is to learn lessons about how to manage the transition from troubles and violence to peace, surely it can learn some of them from you.”
Mr Annan’s lecture said the role of the UN had changed over the years from just keeping the peace to engaging in conflict resolution and tackling the root causes of violence.
“In the last 15 years or so, the United Nations has developed a considerable body of experience of managing and resolving conflict as well as of peace building but we should acknowledge that our record has been mixed.
“Among the successes I would mention particularly Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, El Salvador, Guatemala and East Timor,” he said.
Mr Annan also accepted there had been some failures, namely in Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Angola.
“I do not think it coincidental that, in the case of the failures, there was no peace to keep or peace agreements proved fragile because the underlying causes of conflict had not been resolved.
“We have learned useful lessons from both our successes and failures and are doing our best to put those lessons into practice.”
After his visit to Northern Ireland, believed to be the first by a UN Secretary General, Mr Annan left for London, where he will meet the Queen, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown.