Group Urges Swift Dispatch of U.N.-African Force to Darfur

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thirteen former world leaders and present-day activists led by Nelson Mandela called yesterday for the swift supplying and dispatch of a 26,000-member U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force to bring security to the western Sudanese region of Darfur and end the killing, rape and pillaging there.

The group, which calls itself the Elders, includes former president Jimmy Carter, former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, Bangladeshi microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mandela's wife, Graca Machel. It tries to use its members' collective prestige and moral authority to help solve global conflicts.

Speaking to reporters in a conference call from Beijing, Carter said Sudan must drop its resistance to the inclusion of non-African soldiers in the joint force proposed for Darfur and take aid from whatever country offers it.

"Sudan said it would accept assistance from China and Bangladesh, however not from Norway and Nepal," Carter said. "Absent has been united pressure from the powers to make sure the government of Sudan is flexible in accepting any kind of offer for a service it cannot provide by itself," he added.

In a report released yesterday based on findings from a trip to Sudan this year, the group emphasized that Darfur residents, as well as Sudanese from other regions, were desperate for the force to arrive.

"Obstacles persist," Carter said. "Even forces that are African are not being permitted to land."

There is a serious risk, he cautioned, that the 2005 peace agreement that ended a separate conflict between northern and southern Sudan may collapse. The terms of the deal that ended 20 years of fighting have yet to be fully applied, he added.

Machel, speaking by telephone from Mozambique, said she was particularly struck by the "stories of physical violence against girls, mothers" in Darfur. "Rape has become a norm," she said. "The government of Sudan does not seem to understand the gravity of the reality of these women."

Machel added: "The very basic rights and dignity of these women are being violated. . . . We are also worried about the safety of humanitarian organizations tending to them."

Tutu expressed hope that the group's members, who include several Nobel Peace laureates, can bring new momentum to the reconciliation process. He noted that the Elders have behind-the-scenes access to powerful world figures.

"Maybe we can persuade some to use their leverage," he said. "This thing has gone on for too long."

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