Sudan Continues to Obstruct Peacekeepers, U.N. Official Charges

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 27 -- Sudan's government has imposed a series of new bureaucratic obstacles that undermine the ability of a U.N.-backed peacekeeping mission in Darfur to protect civilians and its own troops there, according to the United Nations' top peacekeeping official.

Jean-Marie Gu¿henno, the U.N. undersecretary general for peacekeeping, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that Sudan has insisted that international troops provide Sudan the authority to "temporarily disable" the mission's communications network if Sudanese forces are engaged in a military operation and to provide advance notice of all the mission's troop movements.

The latest Sudanese restrictions came to light just five weeks before a joint U.N./African Union mission of 26,000 peacekeepers is scheduled to formally replace a smaller African Union force in the Darfur region. The moves threatened to derail a U.S.-backed diplomatic effort at the United Nations to restore calm in one of Africa's deadliest regions.

Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, denied that his government was dragging its feet, saying that Gu¿henno was blowing out of proportion a "small technical" dispute. The ambassador said the U.N. peacekeeping department has developed a habit of blaming Sudan for its own failure to meet its schedule for deploying a force in Darfur.

Gu¿henno said Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is backtracking from his commitments to support an international mission in Darfur, and the undersecretary appealed to the Security Council and influential African governments to persuade Khartoum to cooperate more fully. "A strategic decision on the part of the government of Sudan is necessary if we are to achieve our common goal: peace and security in Darfur," he said.

The violence in Darfur began in February 2003, when two Darfurian rebel groups took up arms against the country's Islamic government. A government-backed counterinsurgency campaign has driven more than 2 million civilians from their homes and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more. The United Nations' top political envoy, Jan Eliasson of Sweden, told the council that more than 30,000 people have been displaced by fighting between government and rebel forces over the past month.

In recent weeks, Sudan has engaged in bureaucratic delays that raise concern about its commitment to the new peacekeeping mission, Gu¿henno said. Khartoum has yet to grant the mission authority to conduct night flights in Darfur or to deploy six helicopters in an airfield close to its headquarters in El Fasher. The government has impounded U.N. communications equipment in the El Fasher airport for weeks, and has yet to grant land for encampments in the towns of El Geneina and Zalingei. "If the government doesn't give us the land we need immediately, we will have to hold back some units," Gu¿henno said.

Khartoum refused to authorize the participation of non-African troops whose role is vital to the mission's success, according to Gu¿henno. The new Sudanese demands, he said, "would make it impossible for the mission to operate."

Gu¿henno also raised concern about new reports that two Darfurian rebel factions have threatened an advance unit of Chinese military engineers. And he faulted the U.N. membership for failing to provide the mission with trucks, as well as transport and attack helicopters. "Do we move ahead with the deployment of a force that will not make a difference," Gu¿henno asked, "that will not have the capability to defend itself, and that carries the risk of humiliation of the Security Council and the United Nations, and tragic failure for the people of Darfur?"

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