The United Nations is on target to deploy a mainly African hybrid peace force in the war-wracked Sudanese region of Darfur on schedule, but needs more offers from countries on critical capacities such as aviation and ground transport, a senior UN peacekeeping official said today.
Jane Holl Lute, acting head of the new Department of Field Support, told reporters that “we are hitting the target of a predominantly African force,” outlined in last week’s Security Council resolution authorizing the creation of the hybrid operation, to be known as UNAMID.
The hybrid operation with the African Union, the first of its kind, will become the largest peacekeeping force in the world, with almost 26,000 troops and police officers and nearly 5,000 civilian staff when it reaches full deployment. It will have an initial mandate of 12 months and will incorporate of the existing AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS).
Ms. Holl Lute said the UN has already received enough offers from Member States to meet the required numbers of troops and police officers, but “we still are missing some pledges for key enabling capacities in the area of movement, for example, and in the area of aviation.”
Troops or police officers have already been pledged by Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Thailand and Uganda. Those offers, however, are not final.
Ms. Holl Lute said UNAMID’s headquarters will be established in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, with a series of sector headquarters and other deployment locations spread across the three states of Darfur, an arid and impoverished region nearly as large as France.
She warned that the mission faces daunting logistical challenges because of Darfur’s climate, terrain and remoteness. There are few water sources and little transport infrastructure, and the nearest port through which supplies can be sent is 2,200 kilometres away.
Despite its aridity, Darfur can face intense floods during the annual rainy season, which can run from April to October, while sand storms are also a regular threat.
Water will have to be rationed carefully by the mission, Ms. Holl Lute said, adding that the UN was working with experts to see whether an apparent underground “mega-lake” in North Darfur exists and can be utilized.
In response to a reporter’s question, Ms. Holl Lute said early estimates indicate UNAMID will cost more than $2 billion a year to operate, on top of the initial start-up cost.
She stressed that the UN was working towards meeting the benchmarks set out in last week’s Security Council resolution, especially that by October UNAMID is scheduled to have its management, command and control structures in place. As of the end of the year, the new mission should be ready to take over operations from AMIS.
Since fighting erupted between rebel groups, Government forces and allied Janjaweed militias in 2003, UN officials have repeatedly described Darfur as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and the scene of widespread human rights abuses. More than 200,000 people have been killed and the conflict has spilled into neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).