There are two main options for a United Nations peacekeeping force in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region - one heavier on the ground, the other with larger air assets – but no major planning can take place pending an on-the-spot assessment, which the Sudanese Government at present opposes, the Security Council was told today.
“We now need to further engage with the Government of Sudan to go further in our preparations and that’s really now what is the focus of ongoing discussions with the parties,” Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guéhenno told reporters after attending closed Council consultations on the possible transition to a UN force from the current African Union (AU) mission.
He said there were “great expectations, hopefully” from peace talks in the Nigerian capital of Abuja seeking to end three years of fighting between the Government, pro-government militia and rebels in a devastating conflict that has already killed over 180,000 people and uprooted over 2 million more.
“It seems that the negotiations there are moving forward,” he added. “And of course the outcome of Abuja will be very important to finalize our planning, our preparations for a possible transition.”
Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi briefed the Council on his recent visit to the region to discuss the possible transition from the overstretched AU mission in Darfur to an agile, capable and highly mobile UN peacekeeping force.
“The Government has indicated that at this time they are not in favour of a transition to a UN operation, but that following an agreement in Abuja they will be prepared to discuss with the United Nations how the United Nations could help in implementing that agreement” as it had done after the Naivasha accord, he told reporters afterwards.
He was referring to the 2005 pact that ended a separate conflict in Southern Sudan, after which the Council authorized a military and police forces of nearly 11,000 to help rehabilitate the ravaged region where more some 4.5 million people had been uprooted by 20 years of fighting between the Government and rebels.
“Of course, to finalize or fine tune the planning and to prepare a concept of operation that then has to be submitted to the Security Council we will need to undertake a technical assessment mission on the ground together with the African Union,” Mr. Annabi said. “The sooner that of course happens the better, so that we can go ahead with the preparations.”
It would take six to nine months to fully deploy an operation of this magnitude and complexity, he added, noting that there were two possible options, with one heavier on ground forces and the other being heavier on air assets.
“In other words you can go lighter on the air assets if you have more ground forces and you can be lighter in terms of ground forces if you have more air assets,” he said, acknowledging that numerous potential contributors will want to see what the mandate is before they decide to come forward.
“It will have a strong African dimension but there will have to be also a strong input from countries beyond Africa,” he added.
Meanwhile, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Sudan Jan Pronk held talks today in El-Fasher, capital of North Darfur, with the head of the AU Mission, Baba Gana Kingibe, to discuss means of cooperation and support. He is also scheduled to meet with leaders of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army.