WASHINGTON – Tens of thousands of petitions urging President Bush to help get U.N. peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur made its way to the White House on Tuesday.
The petitions were gathered by members of the Save Darfur Coalition and Amnesty International over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. David Rubenstein, executive director of the Save Darfur Coalition, delivered the petitions as advocates marched in front of the White House chanting, "U.N. boots on the ground."
"It is really a wonderful opportunity for us to say to the president and to say to the rest of the world community that we can no longer permit the suffering to continue," said Rubenstein at the White House vigil.
"It is time for us to go visit the president and take these signatures that we are all standing here representing and say it is time for us to get peacekeepers to protect these innocent civilians in Darfur."
The United Nations has called the violence in Darfur the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It estimates that over 200,000 people have been killed, more than 2.5 million people displaced and over 3.5 million affected by the conflict over the past three years. The Arabic Khartoum government is accused of supporting the Janjaweed, which is responsible for widespread attacks against the African civilians in Darfur.
Late in December, the first batch of 25 uniformed United Nations personnel arrived in Darfur with the agreement of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. However, the Sudanese president said Wednesday that African Union forces can maintain peace in Darfur and U.N. forces are not needed, reported The Associated Press. Al-Bashir said all the AU forces need is funding, not additional help on the grounds.
"The crisis in Darfur is at a turning point," said Save Darfur executive director David Rubenstein, in a statement Tuesday. "The three-phase plan agreed upon on Nov. 17 by the United Nations, the African Union, and Sudan – which calls for a transition from the current African Union peacekeeping force to a hybrid AU–UN force, incorporating many of the strengths of Security Council Resolution 1706 – is now underway.
"The more than 20,000 petitions collected by the Coalition are further proof that the crisis in Darfur remains a priority in the minds of the American people, and now is the time for the American government to be resolute in its insistence that this plan be carried out," Rubenstein added.
The U.N. Security Council hopes to move to stage two of the gradual plan for an U.N.-A.U. peacekeeping force in Darfur. Currently, the United Nations is looking to dispatch some 1,800 military personnel in specialized units such as transport, engineering, logistics and medical experts into Darfur. The overall aim is to deploy a hybrid peacekeeping force made up of 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers.
"The United Nations has spoken and the world community has spoken, they have said peacekeepers to protect innocent civilians and innocent children," Rubenstein stated.