Warning that "there is no time to waste" in ending Sudan's "long nightmare" of civil wars, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged a rare special session of the Security Council in Africa to give the final impetus to peace talks in the south while addressing "the terrible situation" in the west of the continent's largest nation.
"For far too long war has inflicted misery and untold human suffering on Sudan, distorting the allocation of scarce resources, discouraging foreign aid, and scaring away both Sudanese and foreign investors," Mr. Annan said at the start of the two-day session in Nairobi, capital of neighbouring Kenya where peace talks between the Sudanese Government and southern rebels have yet to be concluded despite significant progress.
"The effects of delay are felt not only in the south, but elsewhere too, as conflict spreads to more parts of the country. The devastating conflict in Darfur is glaring evidence of this," Mr. Annan added, referring to fighting and massacres in the vast western region which the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
He said it was high time to conclude the peace talks that have been taking place in Naivasha, Kenya, between the Khartoum Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and Army (SPLM/A).
"I am confident that you will, in your collective and your private discussions with Vice President Ali Othman Taha and (SPLM/A leader) Dr. John Garang, and in the resolution that you will be adopting on Sudan, encourage the parties to sign a comprehensive peace agreement before the end of the year," Mr. Annan declared.
"And I particularly welcome the Council's promise of full support for the implementation of such an agreement, and its offer of incentives to encourage the parties to do what is right for their people and country."
Successful conclusion of the peace agreement would lead to the formation of a new North-South coalition government with a new army including the SPLM/A, and Mr. Annan said such a development would add weight and impetus to the search for a settlement in Darfur.
"The terrible situation in Darfur has been brought about mainly by deliberate acts of violence against civilians, including widespread killing and rape," he said, noting a continuing deterioration as the Government, militias and rebel groups have breached agreements seeking to safeguard humanitarian rights and security.
"This has made humanitarian work by the UN and our partners precarious and difficult, if not impossible," he added of the region the size of France, where about 1.45 million people have been forced from their homes inside the country and Janjaweed militias stand accused of killing and raping thousands of villagers after rebel groups took up arms against the Government last year. Another 200,000 are living as refugees in neighbouring Chad.
"When crimes on such a scale are being committed, and a sovereign state appears unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens, a grave responsibility falls on the international community, and specifically on this Council," he declared.
Noting that the African Union, with UN backing, was deploying troops to mediate and monitor the situation in Darfur, Mr. Annan called on all Member States with the capacity to do so to give the maximum possible support so that this force, including the essential police contingent, can deploy swiftly and mount an effective operation on the ground.
"By meeting here in the region, you have made an important gesture of solidarity and support for the peoples and institutions of the new Africa," he concluded. "What is happening in Sudan - and in other African countries on your agenda, such as Côte d'Ivoire - is a grave challenge not only to Africa but to all humanity. The United Nations must be fully engaged in helping meet it."