Wed, Sep 12, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Darfur mission head says peacekeeping plan to start on time

AP , KHARTOUM

A large and complex peacekeeping operation planned for Darfur will launch on time and could, within mere months, improve the security situation in the war-torn region of western Sudan, the mission head said.

Rodolphe Adada, chief of the UN and African Union (AU) joint mission to Darfur (UNAMID), said contributing nations have already committed more than the 26,000 required troops for the force, and he expects the peacekeepers to deploy next month.

"That won't mean we'll have all the elements of the force on the ground, but we'll be operational," he said on Sunday.

The joint mission will take over from an AU force of 7,000 in Darfur and Adada said he expected to begin operating with some 10,000 troops, including the African contingents already in place.

He said UNAMID would meet the deadline set by the UN Security Council to replace the AU by Dec. 31.

"Hopefully, we'll be in full gear by March," Adada said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Darfur last week to press for an end to the conflict, has said that UNAMID faces "enormously complex" logistical challenges. And some observers are skeptical such a large force will manage to deploy on time.

Darfur civilians have grown increasingly frustrated with the AU's lack of protection since it initially came in June 2004. They hope the new, hybrid UN-AU force's ability to secure refugee camps and towns will be a key factor to bring back stability.

One of the main weaknesses of the AU's current force is a mandate more focused on monitoring violence than preventing it. Adada said UNAMID's rules of engagement, under which troops are allowed to shoot, will provide for stronger protection.

The resolution that created UNAMID includes some clauses under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter -- which allows for the strongest use of force -- and UN diplomats say the mission's rules of engagement should be signed on Sept. 21 when the UN Assembly General gathers.

The deployment will come as a new peace conference between Darfur rebel groups and the Sudanese government launches on Oct. 27 in Libya. At least one leading rebel chief, Abdel Wahid Elnur, has said he would refuse to take part in peace negotiations before UN peacekeepers are fully in place.

The previous peace deal, signed in May last year between one rebel group and the Sudanese central government, is viewed as largely ineffective at reducing violence in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died since fighting began four years ago.

Adada said 6,000 police and troops would immediately focus on pacifying Darfur's refugee camps, where more than one-third of the population now live.

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