By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Now is not the time to withdraw international peacekeepers from Sudan's Darfur region, where violence is increasing and tens of thousands of people have been forced to abandon their homes, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations said on Friday.
Khartoum has called for the joint United Nations-African Union force in the remote region of western Sudan to withdraw. The mission, known as UNAMID, has been targeted by armed groups while Western governments have accused it of not doing enough to protect civilians.
The worsening bloodshed in Darfur and the confrontational approach of the Khartoum government were the focus of an informal, closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday. Abdelrahman Gasim, a lawyer from Sudan, and Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih, an activist from Darfur, spoke at the meeting.
They told journalists later that they pleaded with council members to take bolder action to stop the bloodshed and protect the people of Darfur.
"The takeaways from today's meeting are clear - now is not the time to give up on Darfur," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said in a statement. "Now is not the time to withdraw U.N. peacekeepers, and now is not the time to abandon the people of Darfur."
Power said that "member states with influence over Khartoum must use that influence and urge the government to allow greater access for humanitarian workers and to allow UNAMID to carry out its mandate to protect civilians."
Law and order have collapsed in much of Darfur, where mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms in 2003 against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination.
The two countries with the most influence over Khartoum, China and Russia, did not attend Friday's meeting, which several council diplomats described as disappointing.
Power called for U.N. sanctions and arms embargoes to be enforced and for a "comprehensive political solution starting with a negotiation of a real cessation of hostilities." She said the council should make clear that it would not consider any premature drawdown or closure of UNAMID.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended that the council move this month to extend the mandate of UNAMID for another year, saying any drawdown should be based on the ability of the government and armed groups to make progress on peace.
(Editing by Grant McCool)