A large and complex peacekeeping operation planned for Darfur will launch on time and could, within months, improve security in the war-torn region of western Sudan, the mission’s head said.
Rodolphe Adada, chief of the United Nations and African Union joint mission to Darfur, said contributing nations have already committed more than the 26,000 required troops for the force, and he expects the peacekeepers to deploy in October.
“That won’t mean we’ll have all the elements of the force on the ground, but we’ll be operational,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press late Sunday.
The joint mission will take over from an African Union force of 7,000 currently in Darfur, and Adada said he expected to begin operating with some 10,000 troops, including the African contingents already in place.
He said the joint mission, called UNAMID, would meet the deadline set by the U.N. Security Council to replace the African Union force by Dec. 31. “Hopefully, we’ll be in full gear by March,” Adada said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he was “encouraged to have received ... even more contributions than we may actually need.”
“Still we are lacking in the specialized areas, like air transportation and experts in finance. We’d like to have contributions from non-African Union countries, particularly European countries,” Ban told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Ban, who visited Darfur last week to press for an end to the conflict, has warned the new force faces “enormously complex” logistical challenges. Some observers are skeptical such a large force will manage to deploy on time.
New peace conference planned
Darfur civilians have grown increasingly frustrated with the African Union force’s lack of protection since it arrived in June 2004. They hope the new, hybrid U.N.-African Union force’s ability to secure refugee camps and towns will be a key factor to bring back stability.
One of the main weaknesses of the African Union’s current force is a mandate more focused on monitoring violence than preventing it. Adada said the UNAMID’s rules of engagement, under which troops are allowed to shoot, will provide for stronger protection.
The resolution that created the joint force includes some clauses under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter — which allows for the strongest use of force — and U.N. diplomats say the mission’s rules of engagement should be signed Sept. 21, when the U.N. General Assembly gathers.
The deployment will come as a new peace conference between Darfur rebel groups and the Sudanese government begins Oct. 27 in Libya. At least one leading rebel chief, Abdel Wahid Elnur, has said he would refuse to take part before U.N. peacekeepers are fully in place.
The previous peace deal, signed in May 2006 between one rebel group and Sudan’s central government, is viewed as largely ineffective at reducing violence in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died since fighting began four years ago.
“Bringing security will be our top priority. Everything else will proceed from that,” said Adada, 61, who was foreign minister of the Republic of Congo in central Africa before his appointment to UNAMID.
He said 6,000 police and troops would focus immediately on pacifying Darfur’s sprawling refugee camps, where 2.5 million people — over a third of Darfur’s population — now live.
With a total of about 31,000 staff — nearly 20,000 soldiers, 6,000 police and 5,000 civilians — the mission will be one of the largest ever launched by the United Nations. Its initial budget will run at more than $2.5 billion a year, Adada said, and seven camps have to be built to house the force in Darfur, a semi-desert landlocked region that lacks most basic infrastructure.
There also remain several unknowns about how to manage a force under the joint oversight of the U.N. and African Union. Sudan’s government had rejected a previous Security Council resolution for a U.N. peacekeeping force last year, and the current hybrid mission was only accepted after several months of negotiations to guarantee it would have a predominantly African character.
African Union chairman Alpha Oumar Konare said last month that African nations had offered enough troops to compose all of UNAMID. But some of the proposed forces don’t have the appropriate gear, and Adada said his mission, though predominantly African, would probably include as many as 90 nationalities.
Engineering corps and helicopter units would likely come from other continents and the mission is still lacking some firm commitments on equipment such as armored vehicles, he said.
Khartoum has repeatedly hindered peacekeeping or humanitarian efforts in Darfur, where the U.N. and the International Criminal Court at The Hague accuse Sudan’s government of having masterminded most of violence against civilians.