SA urges rich nations to equip Darfur force

South Africa urged rich countries on Tuesday to provide the hardware required for the deployment of a hybrid United Nations-Africa peacekeeping force in the strife-torn Darfur region of western Sudan.

While South Africa was committed to providing what it could to help resolve the deadly years-long conflict, it was “not such a military power”, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad told journalists in Cape Town.

“The type of equipment they need must come from bigger military powers, clearly.

“The key challenge is that developed countries must move decisively to provide the equipment that is needed. That includes Russia, China, the United States and some of the EU countries.”

The force is due to take over from an existing African Union deployment.

But United Nations Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno recently said the envisaged 25 000-strong hybrid force might be stillborn if ground transport and aviation units were not forthcoming.

It still required a ground transport unit, 18 transport helicopters, and six helicopters for light tactical purposes.

“We agree with him [Guehenno] fully when he says it tells a sad story of commitment to Darfur,” said Pahad.

“We cannot keep talking of the crisis in Darfur and keep talking of the violence that is increasing without ensuring that those that have the capacity do provide the capacity so the hybrid force can be in place as scheduled.”

South Africa was considering a UN request to contribute helicopters and ground transportation, and has already agreed to boost its existing presence in the region from 700 to 800 by December.

Pahad called for support from developed countries for a proposed $1,4-billion budget required for the first year of force deployment, while conceding that the Sudanese government itself had yet to come to the party.

According to Guehenno, the government of President Omar al-Bashir had yet to agree with the UN and AU on the composition of the hybrid force to be known as Unamid.

Thailand has offered to contribute an infantry battalion, Nepal a force reserve and sector reserve unit, and Sweden, Norway and Denmark an engineering unit.

But, said Pahad, there was “no agreement between the Sudanese government and the AU and the UN on utilising these forces”.

“We would urge all three sides, the UN, AU and the Sudanese government, to really resolve that outstanding matter of the composition of the force as soon as possible.”

The Darfur conflict between rebels and a pro-government militia has claimed an estimated 200 000 lives in the past four years. — AFP

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