Bleak Advice for U.N. Darfur Commander

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 17 -- Retired Canadian army Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, a former U.N. commander whose warnings of Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s went unheeded by U.N. leaders, advised the newly appointed leader of U.N. forces in Darfur to expect little backing from his political masters as he struggles to halt mass violence.

Dallaire, a Canadian senator who led U.N. forces in Rwanda in 1993-94, sent a letter congratulating Nigerian Gen. Martin L. Agwai on his appointment as commander of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur, a region in western Sudan where as many as 450,000 people have died from violence and disease and about 2.5 million have been displaced since an armed secessionist revolt began there in 2003. But he warned Agwai to prepare for the worst.

"You can anticipate being let down by everyone on whom you depend for support, be that troops, funding, logistics or political engagement," Dallaire wrote. "Only by shining a spotlight on those failures in every possible way can you mobilise the attention necessary to get the action you need. Bear in mind that whoever fails you will, in the end, be the most active in blaming you for whatever goes wrong."

The letter, first reported by Britain's Guardian newspaper, provided a candid assessment of the potential pitfalls in a U.N. peacekeeping mission by a man who presided over one of the greatest failures in U.N. history. As commander of a force of about 2,500 U.N. peacekeepers in Rwanda, Dallaire requested, but was denied, reinforcements or permission to seize weapons from Hutu extremists after uncovering a plot to exterminate the country's Hutu moderates and Tutsi minority.

Agwai has been selected by the United Nations and the African Union to command a force of more than 26,000 peacekeepers. The new mission, called the U.N.-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), will replace a 7,000-member African Union force that has been straining to stem the violence. But the new mission lacks commitments of key logistical and military hardware.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, warned Monday that renewed fighting last week between government and rebel forces in Darfur could undermine U.N.-backed talks scheduled to take place in Tripoli, Libya, next month. "The timing of the violence is particularly troubling as it could create conditions that are not conducive to the success of the upcoming political negotiations," said Michele Montas, Ban's spokeswoman.

Dallaire told Agwai that his mission would have the "historic opportunity" to bring peace to Darfur but that he would face squabbling rebel groups, unreliable donors and interference by the Khartoum government, whose commitment to peace he called "deeply uncertain."

"This is a daunting mandate, and you enter into this mission facing long odds," Dallaire wrote. He advised Agwai to press his bosses in New York and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the headquarters of the African Union, to ensure that he has the authority to use force and to end confusion over whether the United Nations or the African Union will assert military control over the force.

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