UN Secretary-General urges president to disarm Darfur militias

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has written to Sudanese President Umar Hasan al-Bashir urging him to disarm the militia whose attacks on civilians in the western region of Darfur have led to a grave humanitarian crisis.

The text of the humanitarian ceasefire agreement reached in April between the government and the two rebel groups fighting in Darfur, says Khartoum "shall commit itself to neutralize the armed militias".

Annan also called on Bashir to improve the access of humanitarian workers to tens of thousands of people who have been uprooted from their homes.

The Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003 and pits the Sudanese government and militias allied to it against two armed rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement, that accuse Khartoum of marginalising the Darfur region. It has displaced more than a million people, as well as an estimated 110,000 refugees who have fled to neighbouring Chad.

In his letter, Annan asked Bashir to maintain the humanitarian ceasefire signed between the combatants on 8 April, and to facilitate the early deployment of African Union (AU) observers throughout the area, while negotiating a political settlement to the crisis, said a statement.

Earlier this month, the AU sent a mission to consult with the Sudanese government, the SLA and JEM, as well as with UN agencies and NGOs, about establishing a ceasefire commission.

According to the ceasefire agreement signed in Ndjamena, the Chadian capital, the commission shall be involved in "planning, verifying and ensuring the implementation of the rules and provisions of the ceasefire [and] defining the routes for the movement of forces in order to reduce the risks of incidents".

The commission is also mandated with "receiving, verifying, analysing and judging complaints related to the possible violations of the ceasefire [and] developing adequate measures to guard against such incidents".

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan has reported that government troops and SLA fighters have engaged in a number of clashes in Northern Darfur and that Borno was now under the control of rebel forces. Vehicles carrying hundreds of SLA forces were seen in the vicinity of Tawila (about 50 km southwest of Al-Fashir), according to the report, issued on Thursday.

It said that clashes between government and rebel forces had also been reported in Korma (about 50 km northwest of Al-Fashir) and that government forces had secured their positions in the area.

In Southern Darfur, pro-government Janjawid militias had reportedly stopped a private car carrying five teachers and a displaced woman, whom they molested and robbed before freeing, said the report. It also noted that government helicopters had resumed activity over Nyala, but the exact purpose of the flights remained unknown.