The full and rapid deployment of the hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is in jeopardy because of a series of objections and obstacles raised by the Sudanese Government and the lack of offers for crucial force units, a senior United Nations official warned the Security Council today.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno told an open debate on the war-torn region of western Sudan that with five weeks remaining before UNAMID is due to accept the transfer of authority from the existing AU peace operation, critical gaps in mobility capabilities remain.
The mission is short of one heavy and one medium transport unit, three military utility aviation units and one light helicopter unit, while an earlier pledge for one reconnaissance company has been withdrawn, he said.
“If no appropriate offers for these missing units are identified by early 2008, it may become necessary to revert to the Council to consider options to mitigate the lack of air mobility. This may require an increase in troops. But more troops will not 'replace' military aviation and they would also require more logistic support, more land, more water, and would likely not appear in Darfur until late 2008. Another sub-optimal last-resort measure would be to 'borrow' these capabilities from other missions.”
He said that despite sincere efforts by the UN to address Sudanese concerns about the composition of the force, which is supposed to be predominantly African, the Government is yet to approve units from Thailand, Nepal and Scandinavia.
The Government has also not facilitated the acquisition of land and flight operations rights for UN aircraft, impeding the ability of UNAMID to carry out its mandate, while some of its proposals for the status of forces agreement with the UN “would make it impossible for the mission to operate.”
Mr. Guéhenno said that unless these sorts of problems are resolved, the international community - which agreed at the end of July to authorize the deployment of UNAMID to quell four years of fighting and suffering that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced at least 2.2 million others - may soon face a hard choice.
“Do we move ahead with the deployment of a force that will not make a difference, 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?”
Speaking to reporters later, he said: “If there is a humiliation, it will reverberate beyond Darfur to the whole idea of UN peacekeeping,” noting that during a recent trip to China many countries in that region made clear that they have an increased confidence in UN missions after problems in the 1990s in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
While in Beijing, Mr. Guéhenno called the conflict in Darfur is “a human tragedy, a political tragedy, and an economic tragedy.”
In an address to an ASEAN seminar on 19 November, he welcomed China's contribution of an engineering unit to the region, adding: “But may I say that it needs more? I believe that East Asia's response there will be a key indicator of the region's commitment to global security.”
In his comments to the press today, the Under-Secretary-General said one major setback would shatter confidence. "And then all the other countries in which peacekeeping has made a huge difference - I think of Liberia, I think of Sierra Leone, I think of Haiti today - would be at risk of not having this option of a UN peacekeeping operation when needed because the credibility of peacekeeping would have been once again challenged.
“And so avoiding such a tragedy, making sure that in Darfur, we meet the expectations, even if we do not meet all the expectations, that we make a real difference, that is really vital for the United Nations, for UN peacekeeping and for the people of Darfur.”
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Darfur Jan Eliasson told the Council that Darfur's many splintering movements are showing signs they are prepared to coalesce around two or three common alliances, but also warned that these unification efforts remain fragile.
In addition, Mr. Eliasson said he and his AU counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim believe that both the movements and the Government will need “reasonable time” to finalize their preparations for peace talks scheduled for next month.
“We should not risk the credibility of this process by rushing to convene the substantive talks if we do not have a critical mass of participants ready for them. At the same time, we must maintain the momentum through continuous engagement with the movements and with the Government of Sudan and remind them of their commitments to the AU and UN and of their obligations to the people of Darfur.”
Mr. Eliasson noted that the atmosphere around the peace process “is now less positive than it was last [northern] summer,” when the Council authorized the deployment of UNAMID and successful pre-negotiation consultations were held in Arusha, Tanzania, with many of the movements.
He told reporters that the situation on the ground, particularly inside the increasingly unstable camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), remained worrying, adding more people are now dying from inter-tribal clashes than from Government clashes with the movements.
Although peace talks last month in Sirte, Libya, were “positive and constructive,” many movements - which have fragmented into up to 16 separate factions - boycotted.
But he said consultations in the last few weeks in Juba, southern Sudan, conducted with the help of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the former rebel group from the separate long-running north-south civil war, have led to some hopeful signs.
As a result the Darfur movements are looking to form two or three key groups: the Sudan Liberation Movement Army (SLM-A), the United Resistance Front (URF) and SLM-Unity.
But he warned that AU and UN mediators may need to do more work to ensure the movements consolidate their talks about possible reunification into something more substantive.
“Unification efforts remain fragile. Loose coalitions and alliances have, in the past, failed due to competition over leadership.”
Next Tuesday in Egypt Mr. Eliasson and Mr. Salim will meet regional partners to discuss the course ahead and whether to hold another meeting with the movements in the vein of this year's Arusha consultations.