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Darfur peacekeeping force faces greatest risks since the 1990s – top UN official

Darfur peacekeeping force faces greatest risks since the 1990s – top UN official

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, USG for Peacekeeping Operations
The top United Nations peacekeeping official today warned the Security Council that the new, critically under-manned and under-equipped mission in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region faced “probably the greatest risk” to a UN operation in more than a decade.

At the same time, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno said the mission, known as UNAMID, would repel “with necessary force” other actions similar to Monday night’s attack by a Sudanese armed forces unit on a clearly marked UN supply convoy in West Darfur.

“Today we have the convergence of three factors which put UNAMID at great risk, probably the greatest risk since the 1990s,” he said after briefing the Council, citing the ongoing war in Darfur, the lack of a clear signal from the parties that they want a robust mission and the mission’s own “tragic” lack of essential resources.

Under-manned UN missions in the 1990s were unable to prevent the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the massacre of Bosnian Moslems in Srebrenica in 1995. Mr. Guéhenno stressed that UNAMID was a peacekeeping force not designed to function in a war zone.

UNAMID, a hybrid UN-African Union (AU) force which took over from a purely AU mission last week in a bid to stop the fighting between Government and rebel forces that has killed more than 200,000 people and uprooted 2.2 million others since 2003, only has 9,000 troops out of its mandated strength of 26,000.

It also lacks essential logistics and equipment such as helicopters and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly called on Member States to speed up delivery of vital units and assets.

It was a call repeated by Mr. Guéhenno today when he presented Mr. Ban’s latest report. “I appeal to this Council and to all the international community to help on these and all other remaining problems, including the necessary specialized capabilities and equipment and the political process.

“This is our collective responsibility. Without decisive progress on each of these three issues we will indeed face dire consequences for the international efforts to help the Sudanese bring peace and stability to Darfur.”

While recognizing the “modest momentum” created by the transfer of authority from the AU, he declared: “At the same time we must move forward with a realistic understanding of the situation we face. War with cross-border dimensions is ongoing. Five months after the adoption of Resolution 1769 (setting up UNAMID), we do not yet have guarantee or agreements from the Government on the basic technical issues.

“And finally, the mission itself will not have the personnel or assets in place to implement its mandate for many months even in the best case scenario,” he added, noting that no offers for essential transportation and aviation assets had been made, including 24 helicopters.

“When you combine those factors you see that you have the possibility of failure unless the political situation is rectified, unless the war situation is ended and a strategic choice is made by all the parties that is not by military action that peace will be brought to Darfur but by negotiation, and unless there is a decisive reinforcement of the mission,” he told journalists after the Council session.

Referring to Monday night’s attack with light weapons and rocket propelled grenades on the UNAMID supply convoy of over 20 clearly marked, slow moving white vehicles, Mr. Guéhenno said the Government and rebels had been informed of its movements in advance. The Sudanese area commander phoned after the 10 to 12-minute attack and confirmed it was a Sudanese armed forces unit which had fired.

“The force used utmost restraint in this particular case but we’ve made very clear that this posture may change,” he later told journalists. “This is very dangerous and of course other actions would be repelled with necessary force,” he added, noting that if UNAMID had had night-flying helicopters it would have been in a position to deter the attack “or probably the attack would not have happened.”

He said the Sudanese Ambassador to the UN had told him the Government would launch an investigation into the incident and the UN would participate. “The viability of the mission depends on ensuring that this never happens again,” he stressed.

Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad later denied Sudanese Government forces were involved.

“It’s very regrettable that they develop this habit of continuing their accusations that Sudan is not helping them whereas the actual facts on the ground prove in no uncertain terms that Sudan is cooperating on all issues,” he told reporters.

“Unfortunately they started this habit of only accusing Sudan, and the peak and the climax of that was their accusation that Sudan Government forces yesterday attacked a UNAMID convoy. I can assure you that Sudan Government forces did not at all do that. We have no relationship whatsoever with that attack. It happened in an area infested with rebel activities.”