UN seeks security for Darfur

The force could be as large as 27,000 troops, including the existing 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.

The leaders did not lay out a timetable for the force to begin work partly because Sudan had some reservations.

“The next step is for the UN and AU to call a meeting of the non-signatories (of the Darfur Peace Agreement) … and the government of Sudan. It should take place in the next couple of weeks to resolve outstanding issues by the end of the year,” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

The UN’s humanitarian chief has warned that the security situation is in meltdown.

Jan Egeland has urged the Sudanese government to improve security conditions for aid workers after a spate of deaths in recent months.

“The situation is very difficult and the security has deteriorated. There are courageous humanitarian workers who feel the need for more help to enable work for the civilian population,” Mr Egeland said.

The Sudanese commissioner for humanitarian aid, Hassabou Mohammed Abdullah, acknowledged “security problems in some areas” of Darfur, attributing them to rebels who did not sign a May peace deal aimed at ending the three-and-a-half-year-old conflict.

At least a dozen aid workers have been killed since the government inked the agreement with the mainstream faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement.

Relief workers appear increasingly frustrated by the continued deterioration of the situation.

A Norwegian humanitarian group announced last week that after repeated suspensions it was closing down its activities in Darfur.

Four days later, French-based Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) and Action Against Hunger said in a joint statement that the May peace accord had “been counter-productive.”

According to the United Nations, at least 200,000 people have died in Darfur from the combined effects of fighting, famine and disease since ethnic minority rebels rose up in early 2003.

Some sources say the toll is much higher.