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The United States should use its Security Council presidency in February to urgently seek a transition of the African Union force in Darfur to a United Nations mission with a strong mandate to protect civilians, said Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group yesterday in letters to U.S. President George W. Bush and members of the U.N. Security Council.

The African Union has played an important role in Darfur, sending a ceasefire-monitoring force, the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which now numbers almost 7,000 personnel and includes protection of civilians among its tasks. It has also taken the lead in mediating between the Sudanese government and two Darfur rebel groups. While the A.U. troops have done much to provide security in Darfur they have been unable to protect civilians throughout the region. The A.U. forces have lacked manpower and resources and the Sudanese government has not cooperated with their mission.

“The African Union troops have acted with great resolve and courage in Darfur,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who signed the letter with Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group. “But the deteriorating situation in Darfur demands a major new international effort to save lives there and the U.S. should use its Security Council presidency to jumpstart this effort.”

Violence against civilians in Darfur has surged in the past three months. According to the United Nations, 30,000 people have been displaced in the past month. More than two million people – half the population of Darfur – remain vulnerable in displaced person camps, unable to go home for fear of being raped or murdered by the Sudanese government’s forces and its Janjaweed militias. These continue to operate with impunity from prosecution – despite demands from the U.N. Security Council and the A.U. Peace and Security Council that the Sudanese government disarm these groups.

Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group said that a new U.N. mission should have a strong and clear mandate to protect civilians by force if necessary under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, and to disarm and disband the government-sponsored Janjaweed forces that pose a threat to the civilian population. They also urged that the U.N. force be large and mobile enough to provide security throughout Darfur – some 20,000 strong, as recommended by Jan Pronk, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan.

“A new U.N. force should be large enough and strong enough to robustly protect civilians wherever they are in Darfur,” said Roth. “The U.S. presidency of the Security Council offers an opportunity for the U.S. to make Darfur a high and visible priority. The U.S. must seize the opportunity to move full speed ahead on transition to a strong U.N. force in Darfur.”

Until a transfer can be completed, the organizations called on the U.S. to work with other concerned governments to bolster the existing African Union force in Darfur, through the deployment of additional personnel, equipment, logistical support, funding and other resources from national and multilateral forces (such as NATO and the European Union), including attack helicopters to enhance its capacity to protect civilians.

The letter sent to President Bush is available at:

The letter sent to the U.N. Security Council is available at:

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