US blasts Sudan over Darfur peacekeeper harassment

The US envoy to the United Nations sharply criticized Khartoum over a UN report that accused the Sudanese army of harassing and threatening international peacekeepers in Darfur.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his latest report on the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID that limits on the freedom of movement of UNAMID personnel violated an agreement with Khartoum on their deployment and made it difficult to protect civilians.
"The United States is particularly concerned about the secretary-general’s report of some 42 instances in which UNAMID personnel and patrols have been denied freedom of movement and access," US Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters after a meeting of the Security Council on Sudan.
"These quite directly and seriously contravene the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement the government of Sudan has committed to," she said.
"It impedes UNAMID’s ability to protect civilians and do its vital work. It is utterly unacceptable, as are the threats by the government of Sudan against UNAMID."
Sudan’s Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem dismissed the events described in Ban’s report as a "few isolated incidents."
He also contradicted Ban’s characterization of the security situation in Darfur. Ban said violence continues across Sudan’s remote western region of Darfur and civilians remain at risk from both government and rebel forces.
"There has been a halt to fighting and an improvement of security in Darfur," Abdalhaleem said.
Deputy UN peacekeeping chief Edmond Mulet told the 15-nation Security Council that rebel forces also have made it difficult for UNAMID to carry out its duties in Darfur, a region roughly the size of France.
"Similar commitments to UNAMID’s freedom of movement are required from the armed (rebel) movements with respect to their areas of control if UNAMID is to succeed in its mission of assisting the parties in re-establishing comprehensive peace and stability," he said.
Austrian Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, the current president of the Security Council, told reporters that members of the council "expressed their strong concern at attacks on UNAMID staff and humanitarian workers."
"They called for all parties to unconditionally guarantee full access, as well as the security of humanitarian workers and UN personnel, and also for the immediate release of hostages," Mayr-Harting said.
A US anti-genocide group, the Enough Project, issued a report yesterday that urged the United States and other world powers to impose sanctions on key members of Sudan’s government for refusing to end the violence in Darfur and south Sudan.
The United Nations says more than 2 million people were driven from their homes and some 300 000 people died in the Darfur crisis, although levels of conflict have fallen since the mass killings of 2003 and 2004. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10 000.