The United Nations understands that it will eventually have to take over peacekeeping duty from the African Union in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, the top U.N. peacekeeping official said on Friday.
Under Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guehenno said such a mission would require a robust, rapidly deployable force with sufficient firepower to deter marauding gunmen in an area the size of France where there was no real peace to keep.
About two million people have been made homeless in fighting which began in February 2003 when rebels, complaining the government was neglecting their region, took up arms. Late last year the violence escalated and U.N. officials warn the situation is “unraveling."
African Union heads of state meeting in Khartoum earlier this week said they would welcome U.N. support for AU troops but international forces should be African-led.
Speaking to reporters after talks with the European Union and NATO, Guehenno said members of the two organizations had most of the military capabilities required and should consider how they could help with tactical transport and firepower.
“We’ve seen the conclusions that the African Union reached at its latest meeting. So we understand very well that at some point the African Union will pass the baton eventually to the U.N.,” he said.
The 7,000-strong AU force was performing a difficult task “because very often there is no real peace in Darfur," Guehenno said, and priority should be given to diplomatic efforts to achieve a cease-fire.
“Even if there is a cease-fire, it’s clear the situation in Darfur will remain difficult. There are multiple players and there will always be a temptation to get around the cease-fire.
“So that’s why we say there will have to be a very robust force in Darfur which will be able to compensate with mobility for what it lacks in numbers,” he said.
Who should support AU troops?
Guehenno sought to avoid institutional tensions between the European Union and NATO over which organization should take a role in western Sudan.
He said NATO had provided valuable logistical support to the AU force, notably by transporting troops, but it would be a choice for each member nation as to whether to participate in future peacekeeping operations and in what framework.
The Sudanese government has rejected suggestions U.S. and European troops would be sent to Darfur, arguing the international community should instead focus on providing more equipment and funding to AU troops already in the region.
The United States has not offered any of its troops for a Darfur mission. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Liberia this month she hoped there would be enough African troops to meet the challenge.