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Peacekeeping Troops Trickle Into Darfur

By Sabina Castelfranco
Khartoum
14 March 2008

Egyptian troops will begin arriving in Darfur in the next few days as the combined U.N. / African Union Peacekeeping force for Darfur (UNAMID) continues its deployment. U.N. officials say full deployment of the 26,000 strong force will take longer than many expected. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Khartoum.

U.N. officials are expecting Egyptian troops to start deploying in Darfur over the next few days and Ethiopian troops should follow after that. But in total, U.N. officials say, no more than 1,800 troops are expected in over the next couple of months and they say it is difficult to predict deployment of other troops beyond that.

Spokesman Adrian Edwards says the ultimate goal is to reach 26,000 police and military forces deployed in Darfur and further 5,000 civilian staff. The full deployment will make it the biggest peace operation anywhere. Edwards says the difficulties posed by the environment will not make this deployment a speedy process.

"Just getting this thing operational itself is hugely challenging," he said. "I think there is no time line at the moment but realistically we're talking throughout 2008 we'll see this mission being built up and possibly into 2009 if the resources are coming through slowly."

The mission is two and half months old. Some 9,200 soldiers and police have already been deployed in addition to civilian personnel, that's less than a third of the total. Edwards says it is an extraordinarily difficult mission.

He says it is no easy job to deploy troops in the desert areas of Darfur. The challenges include getting enough water and accommodation for the huge peace operation.

"This is not going to be a short-term operation. It's going to be an effort," said Edwards. "It's going to take a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of effort."

Edwards says the U.N. mission requires both military attack and transport helicopters. These, he says, are of utmost importance to move people around this region rapidly and in order to respond quickly.

He adds that the deployment of the troops is facing a number of questions at the moment. The first is whether there is the political will for the mission to go ahead and if communal support for peace in the region be obtained. Then, whether the resources are going to be forthcoming, and finally will the efforts be sufficient to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.

"It's a crucial point to understand that peace is not going to come from the blazing barrel of a gun," said Edwards. "It is going to have to be a political solution at the end of it, and the peace operation that we have going on here is designed to support a political process."

Edwards added that, right now, a number of belligerents represent a threat to civilians in the region. These people, their leaders, he says, have to be brought to the negotiating table and a solution needs to be found other than through violence.

To achieve this goal and for the troops to be effective, he says, the U.N. mission will first need to win the support of the Sudanese government and of all the major players.




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