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International donors meeting in Brussels on July 18 to pledge support to the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Sudan should provide increased and urgent assistance for the protection of civilians in Darfur, where killings and rapes have escalated in recent weeks, Human Rights Watch said today.

The United States, EU countries and other donor nations at the EU-hosted conference should also urge Sudan to give immediate consent for the deployment of a United Nations force in Darfur, which would take over responsibilities for civilian protection from the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS).

In Brussels, donor governments and the World Bank will gather to receive the African Union’s assessment of AMIS’s needs in Darfur, including more equipment and financing to protect civilians. AMIS was given new tasks under the Darfur Peace Agreement signed by the Sudanese government and the largest Darfur rebel faction on May 5; it must now monitor and verify the parties’ compliance with a detailed comprehensive ceasefire and permanent security arrangements.

“The African Union’s peacekeeping mission is the only force on the ground in Darfur. It will remain responsible for civilian protection until the deployment of a U.N. force,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Donors need to press Khartoum to agree to a U.N. deployment, and they need to pledge generous support to give the AU forces more means to protect civilians right now.”

Battered by the resurgence in violence and a decrease in political support, the Darfur Peace Agreement is at risk of collapse. On July 13, the AU Special Representative in Sudan, Ambassador Baba Kingibe, condemned the increasing violence in Darfur and said that it was seriously impeding implementation of the peace agreement. On July 6, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Sudan, Jan Pronk, said that violations of the agreement were frequent due to the parties’ failure to meet their commitments and the lack of international support for its implementation. Two rebel groups in Darfur have not signed the agreement.

Despite the peace agreement, killings and rape are increasing in Darfur. Civilians are now at even greater risk from a growing number of armed groups across the region, including Sudanese government security agencies incorporating “Janjaweed,” new rebel factions in Darfur, Chadian rebels backed by Khartoum and others.

“With armed groups proliferating in Darfur, the need to provide ample funding to help AMIS protect civilians becomes more urgent,” Takirambudde said.

Two million Darfurians remain displaced in camps, still targeted by the Sudanese government-backed Janjaweed militias, unable to return home and plant crops for the third year in a row. More than 50,000 Chadians have been displaced in 2006 by cross-border attacks from Darfur into Chad by the Janjaweed militias and Khartoum-backed Chadian rebels. These groups also threaten some 208,000 Darfurian refugees in eastern Chad. The escalating violence in Darfur and on the Chad-Sudan border is severely hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid to more than 3 million people – more than half of the entire population of Darfur, which is a region the size of France.

During internal power struggles in June and July, rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement attacked villages and displaced thousands in Darfur, resulting in a further deterioration in security. Investigations into allegations of their rape of civilians and other atrocities are pending.

“AU forces urgently need a rapid-reaction capacity to stem the upsurge in violence in Darfur,” said Takirambudde. “Donors should provide AMIS with the means to put this in place.”

The mandate of the AU peacekeeping force in Darfur is set to expire on September 30. However, the African Union said it would extend the mission if two conditions are met. The first and most immediate is that international donors provide AMIS with sufficient financial and technical support to maintain its operations. AU Special Representative for Sudan Baba Kingibe said on July 6 that AMIS had not paid its soldiers their June stipend because of funding shortages.

The second condition for extending the AU mission in Darfur is that the Sudanese government consent to the deployment of a U.N. force, which would assume AMIS’s civilian protection role. The African Union recommended in March that the U.N. assume AMIS’s military observation and peacekeeping operations in Darfur “at the earliest possible time.” AMIS is now in its third year of operations in Darfur; such a large and long mission was not contemplated when the African Union agreed to deploy in April 2004.

Despite the requests of the African Union, the U.N. Security Council and the Arab League, and Khartoum’s own previous statements that it would accept a U.N. force in Darfur upon the signing of a peace agreement, the Sudanese government continues to reject such a transition, insisting that AMIS continue in the mission. Diplomats stress that it is only a matter of when, not whether, Sudan agrees to the U.N. force.

“The Darfur Peace Agreement was signed because major donors promised the Darfur rebels that once the agreement was signed, U.N. peacekeeping forces would be deployed to Darfur,” said Takirambudde. “These same donors now have a responsibility to exert all influence to ensure that Khartoum agrees to the U.N. force. In the interim, the donors must provide the funding needed to keep AMIS fully operational.”

The African Union also needs funding to protect Chadian internally displaced persons and Darfurian refugees in eastern Chad on the Chad-Darfur border. It was authorized by Chad and Sudan to station at least 50 troops on each side of the Chad-Sudan border to monitor compliance with the Tripoli Agreement signed in February by the two countries.

Human Rights Watch also called on donors to urge the African Union to promptly conclude its agreement for cooperation in Sudan with the International Criminal Court, which is investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur following a referral by the U.N. Security Council in March 2005.

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