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PRESS BRIEFING BY UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR PEACEKEEPING ON SUPPORT FOR AFRICAN UNION FORCE IN SUDAN

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

25 May 2005

While the situation in Darfur continued to be unacceptable, it had stabilized in areas where African Union troops were deployed, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told correspondents at Headquarters this afternoon.

Briefing journalists on the financial and logistical support needed by the African Union force in Sudan, he described the motivation of the troops as remarkable, adding that he had discussed with commanders how the United Nations could best support them. The Secretary-General was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for tomorrow’s pledging conference to raise support for African Union forces on the ground. Its success would be very important in maintaining hope for the people of Darfur.

Asked about continuing instability in areas where African Union troops were not deployed, Mr. Guéhenno acknowledged that Darfur was a very large expanse of land and that the troops, even in greater numbers, would need more assets, including helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, vehicles and communications equipment. Besides the military deployment, it was also important that the international community support the African Union-led political process in Abuja, Nigeria. It was encouraging that the Government of Sudan and the two Darfur rebel movements were prepared to engage in that process. The military deployment must support the political process, without which there would be no peace.

In response to a journalist’s question, he said that while money was welcome, logistical support was important because procurement took time and the African Union did not always have sufficient capacity to procure a lot of equipment as rapidly as necessary. Direct supply would save time and allow the regional body to put more boots on the ground more quickly and efficiently. The detailed list of requirements included flak jackets, helmets, maps and binoculars, as well as medical, office and camp equipment. All that was readily available in the warehouses of Western armies, and supplying it directly would be more efficient than writing cheques and then having to go through the procurement process.

In what capacity would the United Nations mission, planned for Sudan, assist in Darfur? the same correspondent asked. What was meant by repeated statements about the excellent work that the African Union was doing when the situation remained almost unchanged and very critical?

Mr. Guéhenno said there were immense expectations concerning the planned mission. The North-South process was a major breakthrough for peace in Sudan, which should not be taken for granted and it was important to consolidate the Naivasha framework. Regarding the African Union deployment, it was significant when thousands of internally displaced persons returned to their villages, encouraged by the presence of those troops. At the same time, much more must be done, hence tomorrow’s pledging conference.

Asked about the latest death toll, he said that humanitarian agencies were expected to release a report in June containing the estimated mortality figures.

Another journalist asked whether there was disappointment at the failure to deploy more troops.

While acknowledging the need for more troops on the ground, the Under-Secretary-General reiterated the importance of the political process, pointing out that in the absence of solid political engagement, the situation would remain very fragile.

How realistic was the African Union’s “ambitious” plan to more than double its numbers by September? another journalist asked. Were the troops really available, and was it not premature to encourage people to return home when violence was continuing in areas where no African Union forces were deployed?

Mr. Guéhenno agreed that the African Union’s plans, while ambitious, could succeed given the proper support. The regional body was well placed to move the political process along and, by combining the political engagement in Abuja with effective military deployment on the ground, it could make a decisive contribution to peace in Darfur. The role of the United Nations was to support that, while remaining well aware of the considerable challenges. Regarding returns, there was a need to manage them with great care by building trust. There would be no massive returns, and the process would take time.

Would a United Nations deployment not provoke attacks on the “blue helmets”, and had there been any threats to do so? another correspondent asked.

The Under-Secretary-General recalled that humanitarian workers had been attacked and drivers for the World Food Programme (WFP) killed. There was also a lot of banditry in Darfur with the breakdown of law and order in the region.

Asked whether it was not unrealistic and politically impossible to expect troops from other regions to supplement the present deployment, he said the African Union had made it clear that the only option was to strengthen its own forces.

Regarding the management of funds to be pledged at tomorrow’s conference, he told another questioner that the African Union had been talking with member countries that had strong auditing mechanisms about support for the administrative aspects of its operations.

How significant was yesterday’s announcement by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on assistance to the African Union? another journalist asked.

Mr. Guéhenno replied that the announcement was very important because big organizations like NATO and the European Union could help mobilize resources that would come largely from their member countries.

Another questioner asked what level of government officials he had met with in Khartoum and what political message they had conveyed.

He said that in meetings with both President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir and Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Ali Taha, he had emphasized the need to engage fully in the Abuja process, and they had expressed their willingness to do so.

Asked what kind of political pressure should be exerted on both sides, and whether the Organization of the Islamic Conference could play a role, the Under-Secretary-General replied that the Security Council had to remain fully engaged. It had adopted three resolutions, sending very clear signals. There was also a need to strengthen the Abuja effort. African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konaré had agreed on the need to intensify those efforts, saying that once the parties came to Abuja, they would have to remain there until progress was made. The regional body would need the support of all key players with influence on the parties.

Another journalist asked whether the deployment of exclusively African troops was intended as a concession to the Sudanese Government or as an assurance to the African Union of non-interference by outsiders.

Acknowledging the many sensitivities involved, Mr. Guéhenno said the African Union had convinced all players that it had the trust of the parties and was, therefore, the best placed organization to move the process forward.

The same correspondent asked whether the political will existed among the African people, as opposed to African governments, to resolve the Darfur conflict, particularly in countries around Sudan.

Mr. Guéhenno said that all the countries in the region understood that Darfur was a humanitarian and strategic challenge to Africa. There was a sense that the situation, allowed to fester, had the potential to undermine and eventually destroy the landmark North-South peace agreement, which had ended the longest-running civil war on the continent.

To the journalist’s point that not all Egyptians agreed that the 9 January 2005 accord was in their country’s interest, he said there was a general understanding of the need to broaden the agreement. It involved several phases and must become more inclusive, embracing all the main actors in Sudanese political life. Consolidating and broadening the base of the agreement must be a major effort of the international community.

Asked about a minimum United Nations standard for the deployment of a force such as that of the African Union in terms of equipment and training, he said that was the purpose of tomorrow’s pledging conference. The regional body was discussing with some of the countries supplying equipment to see what kind of training they could provide.

Regarding impunity, another correspondent asked whether there was any fear in Sudan of possible referral to the International Criminal Court.

The Under-Secretary-General replied that the existence of a Security Council resolution providing for justice was a key message that was certainly influencing the actions of the players.

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