UN and AU Agree on Joint Darfur Force
By EDITH M. LEDERER, The Associated Press
Thursday, May 24, 2007
UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations and the African Union agreed Thursday on a highly mobile, robust joint force to help protect civilians and restore security to the Darfur region _ but Sudan still holds the key to its deployment.
The 39-page report proposes tripling the number of peacekeepers now in Darfur with an AU-U.N. "hybrid" force of at least 23,000 soldiers and police allowed to launch pre-emptive attacks to stop violence.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the current Security Council president, said he hopes the council will adopt a presidential statement on Friday urging the Sudanese government to cooperate fully in "the expeditious start-up and implementation of the U.N.-AU hybrid operation."
"Now the ball will be in Sudan's court," Khalilzad said.
Sudan's U.N. Ambassador, Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem, told reporters Tuesday that his government would study the report when it arrives "and convey our remarks on it as soon as possible. It will not take months."
The four-year conflict between ethnic African rebels and pro-government janjaweed militia in the vast western Darfur region has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million Darfurians. A beleaguered, 7,000-strong African Union force has been unable to stop the fighting, and Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir has stalled implementation of the hybrid force _ the last part of a three-phase U.N. plan to back up the African troops.
Al-Bashir has given a green light to the first two phases but he has refused to sign off on the hybrid U.N.-AU force, saying he would only allow a larger African force with technical and logistical support from the United Nations.
The hybrid force proposed Thursday by the AU and U.N. envisions highly mobile troops "capable and ready to deter violence, including in a pre-emptive manner," robustly equipped, and backed by aerial surveillance and aircraft to move soldiers quickly to address threats to security.
Mobile infantry battalions would provide security at camps for those who have fled their homes and patrol roads and humanitarian supply routes, and around towns and villages, during the day and at night to restore confidence.
Military observers would track the activities of armed militias, monitor compliance with the Darfur Peace Agreement signed in May 2006 by the government and one rebel group, and monitor the volatile border between Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic where the conflict has spilled over.
The organizations proposed two options for the military force _ one with 19,500 troops including 18 infantry battalions and the other with 17,605 troops including 15 infantry battalions.
The larger force has "an optimal balance" of capabilities "and would credibly contribute to a secure environment," the report said, while the smaller force would "critically depend" on day and night rapid reaction forces and readily available aircraft and helicopters.
The police component would include 3,772 officers and about 2,500 policemen whose prime responsibility would be to establish and train community police in the camps and work with the national police in Darfur to meet international standards.
The report said that even the first of the three U.N. phases _ a light support package including U.N. police advisers, civilian staff and additional resources and technical support _ is still not fully deployed.
It said the lack of security and inadequate living accommodations are holding up the arrival of 46 military, police and civilian staff _ and the two organizations are still seeking 27 military officers and 36 armored personnel carriers from member states.
After five months of stalling, the Sudanese president on April 16 gave the go-ahead for the second phase _ a "heavy support package" with 3,000 U.N. troops, police and civilian personnel along with six attack helicopters and other equipment.
The AU and U.N. called for urgent contributions of troops and police from U.N. member states, and urged Sudan to approve an agreement on land use and water drilling for the force.
The two organizations said every effort will be made to keep the hybrid force predominantly African, as al-Bashir demanded.