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Associated Press – December 4, 2007
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – A delegation of the world’s elder statesmen called Tuesday for an immediate cease-fire in Sudan’s Darfur and for the international community to urgently honor its pledge to send in a U.N.-African peacekeeping force.
“The future of Darfur, and indeed the whole of Sudan, sits on a knife edge,” said the report following a fact-finding mission by four members of the group known as The Elders, which included former U.S president Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“On one side, peace is within reach, and innocent civilians could finally be secure. On the other is a new cycle of violence and despair with devastating consequences for the entire country,” they said.
Carter; Tutu; Graca Machel, a long time campaigner for children’s rights and wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela; and Lakhdar Brahimi, a former U.N. envoy to Iraq traveled in September to Darfur, where over 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced since ethnic Africans took up arms to the ethnic Arab-dominated government after years of neglect.
Tutu told reporters Tuesday he hoped that the trip – by a group of experienced leaders who brought an “independence and fearlessness to speak out – would put pressure on leaders and on others who have influence in the region to resolve what he called a “fraught situation.”
“We are saying this has gone on for too long and we hope we can bring to bear some prestige and moral authority that may begin to move some of the players,” he said.
The Elders, a group of 13, was launched to celebrate Mandela’s 89th birthday in July and is dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crises.
The Elders said in the report that they chose Darfur as their first mission because it is a “blight on the conscience of humanity.”
“We felt we had a moral imperative to join and contribute to the efforts made by many people and organizations to stop the atrocities,” Tutu told reporters Tuesday.
During their four-day visit they met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, government and opposition representatives as well as international and humanitarian organizations.
In the report they raised concerns about the spiraling violence that has seen attacks on African peacekeepers and aid organizations.
“Lawlessness and insecurity have bred a culture of violence throughout the camps and the rest of Darfur. The conflict is escalating,” they said, calling for the Sudanese government, Darfur rebels and Janjaweed militias to adhere to an immediate cease-fire.
In Sudan, members of the group traveled to camps for displaced Darfuris where they met with tribal leaders and women’s organizations. In their report, they expressed their shock at reports they heard of persistent rape of women and girls.
“Rape has become a norm,” Machel told reporters Tuesday. “The government of Sudan does not appreciate the gravity of this. In some cases it doesn’t want to face that it is happening.”
The Elders urged that the planned joint U.N. and African peacekeeping mission, which was to take over from the current African Union force on Jan. 1., be fully equipped and deployed according to schedule.
Some 20,000 troops and 6,000 police have been pledged but only 6,500 soldiers will be available initially.
The Elders expressed concerns that effort to form the force were being hampered and said the Sudanese government must live up to its commitments and accept that the force will be predominantly African with non-African support.
U.N. officials have accused Sudan of standing in the way of deployment by blocking non-African involvement.
“The government of Sudan must stop its obstacles,” Carter said.
The Elders also added their voices to others calling for the political crisis in Darfur and Zimbabwe to be given top priority at the Dec. 8-9 EU-Africa summit in Portugal.
“We hope greater credibility would be accrued to high-level meetings such as this if it was shown to be concerns about issues such as Darfur,” Tutu said.
The group also called for all parties to participate in the peace process and said they gave their support to talks brokered by the U.N and the African Union that opened October in Libya without several prominent rebel leaders.
“Peace and justice are within reach. They cannot be realized unless all parties to the crisis in Darfur are part of its resolution and are fully supported by the international community,” the report said.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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