UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon voiced optimism today for a peaceful resolution of Sudan’s conflicts as he headed to the south of the country to inspect progress in the peace deal between former southern rebels and the government.
“The agreement has generally held but more effort should be done to accelerate the implementation,” Ban said as was heading to Juba. Ban was visiting the capital of semi-autonomous southern Sudan to survey the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended 21 years of civil war between Sudan’s Muslim government in the north and the Christian and animist rebels in the south.
Some 10,000 UN peacekeepers are deployed in southern Sudan to enforce the deal, which ended Africa’s longest civil war but is viewed as fragile amid the turmoil caused by the separate rebellion in Sudan’s western Darfur region.
The southern agreement “provides the basis for lasting peace throughout Sudan,” said Ban, who was on his first trip to the country since taking the reins of the United Nations in January and who has made solving the Darfur crisis one of his top priorities.
Ban held talks over a private dinner with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir late yesterday, and said the president had “again reaffirmed his commitment to the full implementation of the CPA”.
Al-Bashir also responded positively and reassured the UN leader that his government was ready to co-operate for the deployment of a joint UN and African Union force in Darfur, Ban said.
Sudan had for months resisted a push for UN peacekeepers to replace the overwhelmed AU force now in Darfur, where 200,000 people have died and 2,5 million been displaced in four years of fighting. But Ban said Sudanese authorities had now pledged full support to the July 31 Security Council resolution that plans for 26,000 UN and AU peacekeepers to deploy jointly in Darfur.
“Time is of the essence. And the government’s cooperation is essential on a range of practical matters,” Ban said.
“President Bashir affirmed his commitment and readiness to facilitate all necessary administrative and logistical support, and I appreciate his willingness to cooperate fully,” he told reporters.
Yesterday, Ban said the international community had stood by for too long “as seemingly helpless witness to this tragedy”.
But things are changing, and the UN and AU are now bent on reopening peace negotiations between Darfur’s splintered rebel groups and the government, he said.
“Everyone agrees that there is no military solution. We need a cease-fire now,” Ban told the United Nations Association of Sudan yesterday, soon after his arrival on a week-long trip that will also take him to Chad and Libya.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol touted “the tremendous change” in the relationship between Sudan and the United Nations since late 2005, a time when pressure was mounting against Sudan over Darfur.
“We moved from what appeared to be confrontation to fruitful dialogue and sitting together, thinking together and working together toward achieving our common objectives in maintaining international peace and security,” Akol said.
UN officials have cautioned, however, that there are many obstacles to overcome. But they welcomed Akol’s strong support for both the hybrid UN-AU force and new political talks, which the UN hopes will get under way in October.