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15 Aug 2008 13:32
It will take weeks to deploy more peacekeepers to Darfur, even once reinforcements arrive, because of the difficulties of operating in the remote region of western Sudan, the force commander said on Friday.
Only 9 900 of the 26 000 soldiers and police in the United Nations-African Union force have been deployed and the target of getting 80% on the ground by the end of the year looks increasingly unlikely to be met.
The slow arrival of peacekeepers has been blamed on both Sudanese delays and UN bureaucracy.
Force commander Martin Luther Agwai said that even once troops arrive, there was a problem moving vast quantities of weapons, ammunition, vehicles and generators across thousands of kilometres of hostile terrain from Sudan’s only port.
“It cannot be anything less than eight weeks to move one container to Darfur,” he said, adding that the equipment had to move from Darfur’s main towns to the force’s remote bases.
“We are looking at the issue of using railways, we are looking to get more aircraft from friends to move the equipment, we are looking at other options all over,” he added.
International experts estimate 200 000 people have died and 2,5-million been driven from their homes since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in Darfur in 2003, accusing the central government of neglect.
The UN-AU mission is supposed to protect civilians but the absence of a peace deal in Darfur makes its task even more difficult. At full strength it should be the world’s largest UN-funded peacekeeping mission.
Thousands of containers
Agwai, a Nigerian, said 335 Egyptian engineers just deployed had brought 1 000 containers of equipment with them.
Those engineers will help build barracks for the soldiers in the northern Darfur sector.
Chinese engineers will build barracks for the south and the mission is awaiting a Pakistani engineering company for West Darfur.
Agwai said each battalion for the mission needs 26 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and 80 trucks.
Agwai said Sudan’s government could help by expediting customs clearances at Port Sudan, in the east, and by providing armed escorts for the convoys into Darfur, in the west of Africa’s biggest country. The mission has no mandate outside Darfur.
Security in Darfur is a major concern with almost daily bandit attacks on commercial and aid convoys, forcing cuts to rations for millions of people.
Agwai said some equipment could be flown in but that would require more money from donors or aircraft from friendly countries. The force also needs 25 helicopters, but nobody has come forward to provide them.
Agwai asked the Darfuri people for patience.
“Definitely it’s frustrating for them but also we should explain to them the reality on the ground,” he said.
“We are all pushing hard to see if we can reach 80% by the end of the year; if we don’t it’s not do or die,” he said.—Reuters
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