UN cancels Sudan talks

“We haven’t been able to reach an agreement on attending the meeting in Addis Ababa,” Peru’s UN Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales, told reporters.

The visit would have been in response to an invitation from the AU.

“A number of delegations had volunteered to go but we received suggestions that we appoint a smaller delegation” but a consensus could not be found, Mr Voto-Bernales added.

Hedi Annabi, UN deputy under secretary general for peacekeeping operations, however, will attend the Addis Ababa meeting, the Peruvian envoy said.

Council members also were unable to agree on what the mandate of the delegation would be, what constraints it would face and what message it would convey to the AU and the Sudanese government, he noted.

Another complicating factor, according to another diplomat, is a planned visit to Addis Ababa next week by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Mr Annan is scheduled to stop over in the Ethiopian capital on Thursday officially to deliver an address on the issue of development at the opening of the fifth African Development Forum.

But diplomats said he also planned to discuss the Darfur crisis with AU officials during his stay.

The Security Council decided last August 31 to send up to a 20,000-strong UN force to Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region to take over peacekeeping from cash-strapped and ill-equipped AU troops who have failed to halt the bloodshed.

Diplomats said it was believed better to let Mr Annan spearhead UN efforts to work with the AU in trying to persuade Khartoum to allow a strong UN presence in Darfur.

“There was definitely a will to support what the AU is doing but in the end we (council members) couldn’t not find the precise way of doing that,” a diplomat said.

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir is adamantly opposed to the deployment of such a force which he views as part a Western attempt to recolonize his country and plunder his abundant oil and other resources.

As a result, efforts by the world community to end the nearly four-year-old civil war and resulting humanitarian crisis in Darfur are deadlocked.

At least 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million others displaced since a rebellion by Darfur’s mainly black African population against the Arab-led Khartoum government erupted in early 2003.

Much of the violence has been blamed on a government-funded Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed.