By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.N. peacekeepers monitoring a fragile 2005 peace deal between north and south Sudan could not stop new hostilities between the northern and southern armies, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said on Monday.
Alain Le Roy, under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, was discussing some of the possibilities for boosting security ahead of a planned referendum on southern independence early next year.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has said there is a possibility of temporarily increasing the 10,000-strong blue-helmet force in Sudan, known as UNMIS, so it could better monitor hot spots on the north-south border.
Le Roy suggested that an increase would not help.
“An increase in the number of troops would not enable UNMIS to prevent, or even to contain, a clash between the two armies,” Le Roy told the 15-nation Security Council.
“Our best available tool against a return to war remains our commitment in favor of a political agreement … of the parties on the key pending issues,” he said.
Privately, U.N. officials have ruled out the option of boosting the number of UNMIS troops, saying it was not clear the Security Council could reach agreement and there was too little time ahead of the planned January 9 votes.
Le Roy said preparations for the referendum on independence of the oil-producing south, and a separate plebiscite on whether the oil-rich central region of Abyei should join the south or remain with the north, were severely behind schedule.
U.S.-supervised talks in Addis Ababa to work out disagreements on talks that would enable the Abyei referendum to go ahead broke off in deadlock earlier this month. New talks are slated to begin later this week in the Ethiopian capital.
Le Roy said a deal in Addis Ababa was crucial since “tensions continue to increase on a daily basis in Abyei.”
Sudanese Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman told the council that boosting the number of UNMIS troops would be ill-advised. Afterward, he told reporters it was crucial to reach agreements on unresolved political issues, such as border demarcation, which represent a “time bomb” for Sudan.
“If pending issues are not resolved … it gives a chance for war to erupt,” he said.
Rice issued a statement on the reported arrests of people in Darfur who spoke with members of the Security Council during their trip to Sudan earlier this month.
“The United States strongly condemns the reported harassment, intimidation and arrests of individuals in Darfur for speaking to U.N. Security Council members,” she said. “Any such actions are unacceptable.”
Osman repeated Khartoum’s denial — that neither of the two people arrested was detained over the council’s visit. He said anyone with information to the contrary should make it public.
“Those people were arrested in connection with ordinary crimes in El Fasher,” he said, referring to the capital of North Darfur. While in Darfur, council members visited a camp for people displaced during more than seven years of conflict between rebels and Khartoum in the remote western region.
Both the north and the south have said they do not want a return to war. Analysts warn that a delay of the southern independence vote could spark renewed fighting.
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended more than two decades of civil war between the north and south in which some 2 million people died.
Tensions have been increasing this month, Le Roy said, with the north and the south accusing each other of building up military forces along the north-south border. Le Roy said UNMIS has not been able to fully verify the security situation.
However, he said, there had been “no major military mobilization” though both the north and south have strengthened defensive positions along the borders.
Le Roy added that UNMIS was increasing the number of patrols along the north-south border and had boosted its forces in Abyei, which has been a flashpoint in recent years.
The chief administrator of Abyei on Monday rejected U.S. calls for compromise over the area’s future that would split it without a referendum. Khartoum says the Abyei dispute must be resolved if the southern vote is to go ahead.