The United Nations Security Council this week embarked on a peace mission to Africa's Great Lakes region as part of an historic visit that started with a meeting in Nairobi to consolidate a deal aimed at ending two decades of north-south conflict between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement.
The African trip marks the first time in 14 years that ambassadors of the Security Council left their headquarters in New York on the fourth such mission in its history with a phalanx of security forces, advisors, aides and secretaries.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week hosted the opening session at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi at a meeting attended by Presidents Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and senior UN officials.
Mr. Annan told the council that the conclusion of negotiations in Sudan would also serve as a catalyst for the resolution of existing conflicts. The two sides agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on a comprehensive peace agreement by the end of the year.
The Security Council stated its readiness to establish a United Nations peace support mission to help implement such an agreement. In a two-day meeting on Thursday and Friday, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1574 (2004), by which it also extended the mandate of an advance mission already operating in the Sudan until 10 March 2005.
The Council also demanded that Government and rebel forces immediately cease all attacks, refrain from forcible relocation of civilians and cooperate with humanitarian relief efforts in accordance with earlier agreements and indicated it would monitor compliance and take action against any party failing to fulfil its commitments.
Security Council President John Danforth of the United States, speaking in his national capacity, said pessimists might be tempted to dismiss the historic meeting as “just a photo-opportunity or another memorandum”, as atrocities continued. He told Sudanese Vice-President Ali Othman Taha and SPLM leader John Garang, who participated in the meeting, that it was up to them to prove the doubters wrong by delivering on their word. Mr. Danforth said that once the north-south peace agreement was in place, the flow of support would increase, on the understanding that the parties were fulfilling their commitments.
Speaking on behalf of donors, Norwegian Minister for International Development, Ms. Hilde F. Johnson strongly condemned the continued killings and attacks on civilians taking place in Darfur, in the west of Sudan.
Mr. Emyr Jones-Parry, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, said his Government expected the parties to honour the commitment by 31 December by signing a comprehensive peace agreement. He stressed that principal responsibility for the Darfur crisis lay with the Sudan Government, although the rebels, too, had responsibility.
After the Nairobi meeting, the Security Council members this week embarked on a tour of the Great Lakes Region and have so far held talks with leaders in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on a visit that also takes in neighbouring Burundi and Uganda.
The Great Lakes region in Africa’s Rift Valley, has been rife with border wars, ethnic killings, deprivation and hunger that was marked a decade ago by the genocide in Rwanda, and the subsequent civil war in Congo.
“I think that the Security Council has got a new and stronger determination to actually go into the field and actually see what they can do,” said Security Council spokesman, Mr. Jean Victor Ncolo said.