/ 19 December 2008

Darfur peacekeepers face ‘enormous challenges’

A joint United Nations-African Union force in Darfur continues to face ”enormous challenges” almost a year after it was established, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a report on Thursday.

”The AU-UN operation continues to face enormous challenges,” he noted.

”Violence and displacement continue, humanitarian operations are at risk, clashes between the parties occur with regrettable regularity and the parties have not yet reached a negotiated peace agreement.”

Ban said that only 60% of the UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (Unamid) will be deployed by the end of the year, whereas the United Nations had hoped that 80% of its troops would be on the ground by this time.

Unamid was authorised in July 2007 by the Security Council to grow into the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world at an estimated strength of 26 000.

But deployments have been bogged down in large part by a lack of cooperation from the Sudanese government. The force has also been the target of deadly attacks.

The mission lacks key equipment, including 24 helicopters, to patrol the vast region.

”I reiterate my appeal to those that are in a position to provide mission-critical capabilities to do so without further delay,” Ban said.

”Thus far, pledges for a multi-role logistics unit, a medium transport unit, a heavy transport unit, an aerial reconnaissance unit, light tactical helicopters and 18 medium-utility helicopters are still outstanding.”

Conflict has been raging in the Darfur region in western Sudan since 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime.

UN officials estimate that up to 300 000 people have died and 2,7-million have been forced to flee their homes. — Sapa-AFP