UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council on Friday called for an immediate halt to escalating violence in Darfur and demanded that all rebel groups to join peace talks to end the seven-year conflict in the western region of Sudan.
Using tough language in a resolution adopted unanimously, the council said it deplores “the fact that some rebel groups continue to refuse to join the political process.”
The resolution extended the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur until July 31, 2011, and said the force should give priority to protecting civilians and ensuring that humanitarian workers can safely deliver aid.
Fighting in Darfur that began with a 2003 rebellion by groups who accused the government of neglecting the vast desert region has left up to 300,000 people dead and forced 2.7 million to flee their homes, according to U.N. figures.
The Security Council received a briefing late Friday afternoon on clashes and rising tensions in South Darfur’s Kalma camp, where more than 100,000 displaced people now live. According to the peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID, the violence stemmed from differences over the peace talks in Doha, Qatar.
The council expressed concern at civilian casualties in Kalma “which have resulted from clashes within the camp between those who oppose the Doha peace talks and those who support them.” It condemned targeted killings and urged all parties to join the peace process, resolve differences through dialogue, and refrain from violence.
Several rebel groups have negotiated peace agreements with the government at the talks, but Ibrahim Gambari, the top AU-U.N. envoy in Darfur, told the council earlier in the week that two of the major armed groups - the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdelwahid Elnur - have refused to join the talks.
He said the AU-U.N. mediator, Djibrill Bassole, is in contact with the leadership of both groups to urge them to join the peace process.
At a joint forum in early May, the AU and the U.N. decided that an overall political and peace agreement in Darfur should be concluded this year, ahead of the Jan. 9 referendum on whether South Sudan should become independent or remain part of Sudan.
Gambari said the prospects for a negotiated settlement in Darfur have improved.
“Civil society is now more involved in peace talks than ever, the government of Sudan is demonstrating renewed commitment to negotiations, and the leaders of most armed opposition movements are either participating in or are expressing an interest in participating in the talks,” he said.
In the resolution, the Security Council reaffirmed “the importance of promoting the AU-U.N.-led political process,” welcomed UNAMID’s efforts to support the peace talks, and demanded that all rebel groups “immediately engage fully and constructively in the peace process without preconditions.”
The council also demanded that all parties to the conflict immediately end attacks on civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel and commit to a cease-fire.
According to the latest U.N. figures, UNAMID has deployed 88 percent of its 19,555 authorized military personnel and 70 percent of its 3,772 authorized police.