United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged donors to provide the financing, equipment and political backing to help an expanded African Union (AU) mission bring an end to what he called one of the most pressing and destructive crises on the African continent – the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region. Although the violence in Darfur has stabilized over the last few months, the situation remains unacceptable, with civilians still at risk of attack and relief workers increasingly targeted, said Mr. Annan, who is co-hosting a pledging conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, with AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré, formerly the President of Mali. The pledging conference aims to rally support for the ongoing AU-mediated political process in Abuja, Nigeria, as well as the AU Mission (AMIS) in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where for the past two years rebels have been waging a war against the Government and its allied militias, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and forcing some 2 million people from their homes. “Where AMIS is deployed, these things do not happen. An expanded AMIS, at full operational capacity, will mean the great majority of vulnerable civilians in Darfur will be protected from violence,” Mr. Annan said, noting that although some impressive pledges have already been made and significant work has already taken place, “We must accelerate this process further today and coordinate closely to track requirements and remove bottlenecks.” Noting that Mr. Konaré had explained that the expanded AU Mission will include a total of more than 6,000 military personnel and 1,500 police, and will cost over $465 million for one year, Mr. Annan said: “We are about to take the next, crucial step – ensuring that the expanded AMIS, and the men and women who make up the Mission, have what they need to do their job and do it well. Stressing that the effort to provide relief to more than 3 million people through next year was still $350 million short, Mr. Annan also emphasized the “race against time,” with Sudan’s rainy season and “hunger gap” fast approaching, which would make relief operations that much more difficult at the very time they needed to be expanded. “If violence and fear prevent the people of Darfur from planting and growing crops next year, millions will have to be sustained by an epic relief effort which will stretch international capacity to the maximum,” he said. At the same time, he urged the conference to remain aware of the political implications of the fighting in Darfur. Referring to the end of more than 20 years of civil war between the North and South in Sudan on 9 January with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, he said: “If stability is not achieved in Darfur, then the promise of Naivasha – the promise of a just and democratic country able to realize its full potential – will be in serious jeopardy.” The Abuja peace process was indispensable to ensuring that a viable and enduring peace is achieved. “But it can succeed only if we focus our collective diplomatic, political and other support on the crucial mediation effort of the African Union,” Mr. Annan said, adding: “The parties must know that the world is united behind the need for a negotiated settlement. They must know and see that the international community is of one mind in responding to the violence in Darfur.” “We should also set high expectations for the role that the future Government of National Unity can play in negotiations. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was the result of their combined efforts. That agreement should be the basis for a definitive settlement in Darfur,” he declared.