U.S. rebukes Sudan over Darfur violence, wants more from peacekeepers

UNITED NATIONS Wed Mar 12, 2014 7:32pm EDT

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks during a Security Council meeting on the crisis in Ukraine, at the U.N. headquarters in New York March 3, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks during a Security Council meeting on the crisis in Ukraine, at the U.N. headquarters in New York March 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday condemned the recent upsurge in violence in Sudan's western Darfur region, and said civilians are being "terrorized, displaced, and killed" despite the presence of one of the world's biggest peacekeeping missions.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power criticized the Sudanese government and the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, known as UNAMID. She accused Khartoum of obstructing peacekeepers and said the blue-helmeted troops should be more aggressive in protecting people.

Dozens have been killed in Darfur in recent weeks in fighting between rebels and security forces. Critics have accused the government of war crimes and human rights abuses among ethnic minorities in the region.

"The Government of Sudan's proxies and other armed groups continue to attack civilians in Darfur," Power said in a statement issued during a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Darfur.

"We condemn the most recent attacks in South Darfur by Rapid Support Forces supported by the Government of Sudan," she said. "Continued violence in the region, including recent clashes in North Darfur ... has displaced approximately 120,000 people since January."

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has stayed in power despite rebellions, U.S. trade sanctions, an economic crisis, an attempted coup and an indictment from the International Criminal Court on charges of masterminding genocide and other war crimes in Darfur.

The fighting in Darfur has had an impact in other parts of Sudan. This week Sudanese police killed a student in Khartoum who was taking part in a protest over the Darfur bloodshed.

"Despite the presence of one of the largest peacekeeping operations in the world, civilians in Darfur continue to be targeted, terrorized, displaced, and killed," Power said.

"The United States calls upon the Government of Sudan to stop obstructing ... UNAMID, and we call upon UNAMID to carry out its mandate more aggressively to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access throughout Darfur," she said.

REVIEW OF PEACEKEEPING FORCE

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters after the council session on Darfur that he presented to the Security Council specific proposals to improve UNAMID's effectiveness as a peacekeeping force amid the resurgence of violence.

"This is precisely one of the goals of the major review I have just submitted to the Security Council," Ladsous said when asked about Power's criticism of UNAMID. He added that he wanted the force to be better equipped, better placed and more aggressive in protecting civilians.

A 17-page U.N. report on Ladsous' review of UNAMID discussed by the council on Wednesday called for "greater force mobility and an expanded patrol footprint." It also recommended more rigorous training.

It is not the first time the United States has rebuked UNAMID for being too timid. Washington has previously urged it to be more active when it comes to protecting civilians and ensuring that aid groups are able to reach those in need.

Power reminded Khartoum of its January pledge "to lead a political dialogue including all sides of the political spectrum, as well as armed groups that had renounced violence."

"We call on all armed groups, including paramilitary groups supported by the Government of Sudan, to end all violent attacks and join in political dialogue aimed at achieving a peaceful, comprehensive resolution to the conflicts in Sudan," she said.

Law and order have collapsed in much of Darfur, where mainly African tribes took up arms in 2003 against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, which they accused of discriminating against them.

UNAMID has been deployed in the region since 2007. During that time almost 170 of its troops and police have been killed.

There are 14,500 troops and 4,500 police on the ground. The conflict in Darfur has killed as many as 300,000 people and displaced 2 million, according to the United Nations.

Khartoum puts the Darfur death toll at around 10,000.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by David Gregorio, Toni Reinhold)

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