From: Reuters
Published February 20, 2008 03:47 PM

Situation in Darfur deteriorating: U.N.'s Ban

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday in a new report to the Security Council that the situation in Sudan's Western Darfur region was deteriorating and more peacekeepers were urgently needed.

"Over the past two months the security situation in Western Darfur deteriorated significantly as Chadian regular forces and the (Darfur rebel) Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) launched several attacks inside Sudanese territory," Ban said in the report to the 15-nation council.

Darfur rebels said on Wednesday that 15 civilians had been killed in bombing raids by Sudanese government planes near the Chad border, part of an offensive to clear out insurgents.

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The Sudanese army said it had launched a "cleansing" operation in the rebel-held mountainous region to open the way for humanitarian access and to rid it of Darfur and Chadian insurgents, saying they were attacking civilians.

"I remain extremely concerned by the security situation on the ground," Ban said in his regular monthly report on Darfur.

"Humanitarian conditions and access to civilians in need of assistance have been severely undermined by recent hostilities between government and JEM-Khalil Ibrahim forces in Western Darfur and...continued build-up of their forces in the area."

He urged both Chad and Sudan to respect each other's territorial sovereignty.

Ban said the attacks on civilians in the towns of Abu Surouj, Sirba and Suleia earlier this month had caused "an estimated 200 casualties and have led over 10,000 civilians to flee their homes and seek refuge across the border in Chad."

Ban said described these attacks on civilian enclaves as brutal and "grave violations of international humanitarian law."

Eyewitnesses said Sudanese government forces carried out the attacks on the three towns.

DESPARATELY SEEKING PEACEKEEPERS

International experts estimate some 200,000 have died and 2.5 million were driven from their homes in almost five years of violence in Darfur which Washington calls genocide. Khartoum rejects the term and puts the death toll at 9,000.

Ban also urged Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to confirm acceptance of the proposed composition of the joint U.N.-AU peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID, as soon as possible. Western countries have accused Bashir of dragging his feet to try to block the full deployment of peacekeepers.

"Troop-contributing countries now require urgent confirmation from the government of Sudan that their contributions are welcome," he said. "The speed of UNAMID deployment depends critically on this issue being resolved as soon as possible."

Among the restrictions Khartoum has placed on UNAMID is that as much of the force as possible should be African. Sudan has already rejected the offer of a Nordic engineering unit.

Ban said only 9,126 peacekeepers have been deployed to Darfur out of a total planned deployment of up to some 26,000.

He also reiterated the need for U.N. members that have offered troops and police to deploy all promised units as swiftly as possible. He also repeated his request for more helicopters, which peacekeepers urgently need in Darfur.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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