A senior United Nations official on Friday warned that a reported proxy war between Sudan and Chad through rebel groups on each side of their border threatened to destabilise the region and could lead to a wider conflict.
Jean-Marie Guehenno, the French head of UN peacekeeping operations, made the remarks to the Security Council as Sudanese troops attacked three communities in western Darfur, killing dozens of civilians, according to a Darfur rebel chief.
”At least 150 people from the village targeted, that is Abu Soruj, 55km north of Geneina [capital of West Darfur], have been killed or wounded,” Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) commander Abdel Aziz Nur al-Asher said.
And Guehenno said the situation had been exacerbated by the violence in neighbouring Chad over the past several days.”
”The potentially destabilising regional implications have been highlighted by numerous media reports of Chadian rebel movements receiving support in Sudan … and Sudanese rebel movements that have acted in support of the Chadian government,” he said.
”Continuing accusations by both governments of their support for rebel movements on each side of the border increase the climate of mistrust, fuel tensions between the two countries and once again demonstrate the potential for a conflict of international dimensions in the area,” he added.
Guehenno, who toured troops of the UN-African Union peacekeeping force (Unamid) in Darfur during his January 21 to 31 visit, also complained that the force ”is severely under-resourced for the tasks which it was mandated to perform”.
When fully deployed, Unamid is to become the UN’s largest peacekeeping operation with 20 000 troops and 6 000 police and civilian personnel.
But only about 9 000 troops and police are currently in place.
Guehenno said the world body would give priority to deploying a contingent of Ethiopian troops as part of Unamid, provided Khartoum quickly agreed to the simultaneous deployment of crack Nepalese and Thai units.
”If we are to deploy these units alongside the Ethiopian troops, we must inform Thailand and Nepal immediately so that urgent pre-deployment preparations can be finalised,” he added.
US ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington expected Khartoum to ”cooperate fully with the upcoming deployments of Unamid forces”,
He said Egyptian engineering, signal and heavy transport units were expected to deploy on March 10, followed by Egyptian and Ethiopian infantry battalions in March and April and the Thai infantry battalion in the ”April timeframe”.
”If the Sudanese government does not deliver on these steps in a timely manner, then the Security Council will need to consider appropriate action to ensure compliance,” said Khalilzad, hinting at possible sanctions.
”The credibility of the Security Council is on the line,” he added.
Khartoum has been dragging its feet on allowing key non-African forces to serve with Unamid, arguing that the UN should turn to available African troops first.
Guehenno also bemoaned the fact that Unamid was still lacking ”critical military aviation and ground transportation assets”, referring to 24 attack and transport helicopters.
”The council must be aware that, should offers for these critical capabilities not be forthcoming, additional troops will not be a sufficient substitute,” he said.
Meanwhile, UN envoy to Sudan Jan Eliasson said prospects for quick agreements among the fragmented Darfur insurgency ”on common positions and a negotiating team appear dim”.
”The situation is running out of control. We cannot get the political talks going if we don’t have an atmosphere, a climate in which talks can take place,” he warned.
Eliasson and African Union envoy Salim Ahmed Salim visited Darfur last month to try to restart the peace process after talks in Libya failed in October.
A peace deal was signed with the Khartoum government in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in May 2006 but only one Darfur rebel faction endorsed it, sparking deep divisions and a new surge in violence.
The Darfur rebels have since splintered into dozens of factions.
At least 200 000 people have died from the combined effects of war, famine and diseases and more than two million have fled their homes in Darfur since the ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Sudan’s Arab-dominated regime in February 2003. — AFP