UNITED NATIONS – Warning that Darfur (search) is descending into anarchy, the top U.N. envoy to Sudan (search) urged the Security Council Thursday to quickly deploy African troops to deter violence and speed up peace talks to prevent warlords from taking control of the vast western region.
Jan Pronk repeatedly stressed the need to move swiftly, saying the 20-month conflict in Darfur is changing, with the government not in control of its own forces and a leadership crisis within rebel movements.
"On the ground, those who go for a military option don't listen any more to political leaders," he told reporters later, citing an increase in military activity throughout the region which is linked to instability elsewhere in Sudan.
"Darfur may easily enter a state of anarchy; a total collapse of law and order," Pronk warned the council.
While there was slow progress on the political front in October, he said, violence and insecurity increased and in recent days "the situation deteriorated and tension rose to a level unprecedented since early August."
He accused the government and especially the rebels of violating an April cease-fire agreement and seeking more territory in Darfur, which is about the size of France.
Meanwhile, Nigeria's president met with Sudan government officials and Darfur rebels Thursday to try to resolve differences over creation of a no-fly zone, seeking an agreement on the issue by week's end,
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (search), rebels and government officials focused on wording of a draft that calls for "an effective cease-fire on land and air, in particular: refraining from all hostilities and military actions."
Rebels argue this does not go far enough, and are demanding the accord clearly impose a no-fly-zone over Darfur. But Abdulrahman Zuma, spokesman for the Sudanese government, rejected that out of hand: "The government of Sudan will never accept that kind of embargo on its flights."
The United Nations has called Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis, saying the conflict there has claimed 70,000 lives since March — mostly from disease and hunger — and now affects 2 million people, up from 1.8 million in September.
Pronk said the 4,000-strong African Union force being deployed to Darfur has to be beefed up and given logistical support to quickly deploy everywhere that there is "lack of security" in time to prevent violence from erupting. "We have to speed up," he told reporters.
"The international community should also be willing to say, if it doesn't work, then we have to consider other action, other possibilities," he said.
U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said questions have already been raised about the AU force's ability to prevent attacks and the possible need for U.N. troops to be sent to Darfur as well.
But Russia's U.N. Ambassador Andrey Denisov, when asked about the possibility of deploying non-AU troops, said "I don't see it." He called the 3,700-strong AU force already in Darfur "a good contingent" that needs logistical support and should get it.
Violence started after two non-Arab rebel groups launched attacks in February 2003. Originally a clash between black African farmers and Arab nomads over the distribution of scarce resources, the conflict has grown into a counterinsurgency in which pro-government Arab militia known as Janjaweed (search) have raped and killed people and burned villages.
If rebel commanders who now control large areas of Darfur don't become political leaders and start taking responsibility for the needs of the local people, they may start preying on them "and we may soon find Darfur is ruled by warlords," Pronk warned.
To reverse the dire prospects, he called for quicker deployment of AU troops, insistence that all official and self-selected political leaders be held accountable for protecting civilians and human rights violations, and speeded up peace negotiations.
By the end of the year, Pronk said, the government and rebels in southern Sudan should finalize an agreement to end their 21-year civil war, and the government and rebels in Darfur should agree on a timetable and agenda for political negotiations.
The Security Council will be holding a rare meeting on Nov. 18-19 in Nairobi, Kenya, where talks to end the civil war are taking place.
U.S. Ambassador John Danforth, the current council president, said he expects a quick agreement to end the civil war, "for the sake of the overall stability of the entire country, including Darfur."