Donors pledge new aid to Darfur mission

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — International donors on Thursday pledged millions in further aid to an African Union (AU) peace mission in Sudan’s troubled western Darfur region as the pan-African body announced peace talks between Khartoum and rebels will resume next month.
Amid calls for renewed urgency in dealing with the crisis UN officials call one of the world’s worst current humanitarian catastrophes, contributions of more than $200 million (159 million euros) had been pledged by midday.

“We are running a race against time, indeed it is a race against time,” UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said, urging the NATO, the European Union and individual countries to help the AU bloc expand its Darfur operation.

“Darfur is an important challenge for the AU but also for the rest of the international community,” said Alpha Oumar Konare, who co-chaired the meeting at AU headquarters with Annan.

Although some large multilateral contributors like the European Union and NATO did not provide specific amounts for assistance, they said additional aid would be forthcoming.

The AU wants more than $460 million (365 million euros) in cash, military equipment and logistical support to boost its current 2,700-strong truce monitoring operation to more than 7,700 by September.

Of new contributions, Canada pledged the equivalent of $134 million (107 million euros), the United States $50 million (40 million euros), Britain $12 million (9.5 million euros) and France and Germany each 2.5 million dollars (two million euros).

Additional contributions were expected to be announced later Thursday.

Annan said expanding the mission was critical to ensuring stability in Darfur, where a two-year old conflict has killed between 180,000 and 300,000 people and displaced two million.

“The situation remains unacceptable on the ground,” he said. “The violence is targetted at aid workers (but) where the AU is deployed these things do not happen.”

Meanwhile, AU spokesman Assane Ba said Tanzania’s Salim Ahmed Salim, former secretary general of the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, had been appointed mediator for the peace talks by Konare.

Salim headed the OAU for 12 years until 2001, and was previously Tanzanian foreign minister. He takes over responsibility for mediation in Darfur from AU official Sam Ibok, who will stay on the team, Ba said.

The 53-member AU has set out a lengthy wishlist for potential contributions, including 116 armoured personnel carriers, 24 armoured ambulances, maintenance and recovery vehicles, 10 transport and six attack helicopters.

NATO and EU officials said they would be making specific contributions of air transport for troops, materiel, logistical and training support in the coming days and weeks.

“If you ask for help then we can help, we must help,” said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, whose organisation agreed this week to provide aid for what will be its first foray in Africa.

EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, offered a similar message from Europe.

“I came here today in the name of the (EU) member countries to bring you a clear message: Yes to the African Union, yes to the African Union’s request to try to help its efforts to support the population of Darfur,” he said.

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