UN Starting Short of Forces in Darfur
Saturday, December 1, 2007; 5:58 PM
EL FASHER, Sudan -- Darfur's peacekeeping force will start in January with less than half the troops initially promised and without key equipment, the force's commander warned Saturday.
Some 20,000 troops and 6,000 police have been pledged for the joint U.N. and African force.
But only 6,500 soldiers will be deployed when the new mission, known as UNAMID, takes over from the current African Union force on Jan. 1, said Gen. Martin Agwai, the force commander.
Almost all of the 6,500 soldiers will come from that AU force, which has been overwhelmed by the violence in Darfur.
Some 2,000 unarmed, civilian police could also be deployed by January in a best case scenario, Agwai said. But the number would still fall far short of the numbers the U.N. Security Council had planned to deploy in Darfur, a region nearly the size of France where 200,000 people have already died and 2.5 million been forced from their homes in four years of fighting between the Sudanese government and local rebels.
Agwai warned that even at full capacity, the mission would be daunting.
"You realize how Herculean a task we are now facing," he told reporters.
U.N. officials blame Sudan's foot-dragging for much of the delays, saying the government is holding up key equipment at customs and still hasn't agreed to a "status of operations" under which peacekeepers can conduct their activities.
"If those agreements are not reached, the force will have great difficulties deploying successfully," Agwai said.
Khartoum, meanwhile, blames U.N. bureaucracy for being behind schedule.
The international community spends over $1 billion a year to alleviate suffering in Darfur, yet world powers have so far proved reluctant to send troops or costly equipment like helicopters to protect civilians and aid workers, who face growing threats and lack of access.
This disparity is "very hard to explain," said John Holmes, the U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs. "We will make the best of a difficult situation," he told The Associated Press as he ended a two-day tour of the region.
One of the main goals for Holmes' visit was to try to improve relations between U.N. aid workers and the Sudanese authorities who regularly impede their work in Darfur.
Holmes met with the governors from northern and southern Darfur on Saturday to express his views on how to handle the ongoing problems.
"We had very frank exchanges," Holmes said. "We had to agree to disagree on issues such as security, lack of access and forced returns."
Both governors denied that ongoing insecurity was blocking aid from reaching large parts of the region. They also denied conducting a policy of forced returns to try to empty refugee camps.
A U.N. aid coordinator was expelled from South Darfur last month for reporting a police raid in a camp during which dozens of refugees were beaten and forced onto trucks.
In South Darfur, governor Ali Mahmoud said the aid coordinator had become involved in politics.
"We could easily expel anyone who overreaches his mandate," he warned.