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SUDAN: New hope for Darfur as Govt accepts UN support package

NEW YORK, 20 April 2007 (IRIN) - Sudan's long-awaited agreement to the United Nations-African Union (AU) "Heavy Support package" for Darfur has been cautiously greeted by the international community, but both the UN and AU admit that the task of setting up the operation has just begun.

"The Heavy Support package, as its name indicates, is not the robust force Darfur needs," said UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno after a meeting with AU Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare this week. "It is a support package to lay the ground for a future robust force."

The current AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) force of 7,000 deployed in the region is understaffed and underfunded, creating a crucial need for improved security for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps and aid workers. AMIS has also come under attack from unknown gunmen and lost seven men in April. It now plans to establish two battalions to protect its men and the upcoming support package.

"This is going to be critical to the Heavy Support package in view of the deteriorating situation in several places in Darfur because these kinds of enablers [and] resources, including civilian personnel, need to have security," said Guehenno.

The package is the second part of a three-step operation consisting of a Light Support package, a Heavy Support package, and an AU-UN Hybrid force; and primarily aims to aid AMIS.

Tuesday's agreement with the Sudanese government allows the UN to continue
planning for the US $289.9 million Heavy Support package in order to ensure
its deployment in the months ahead.

The package

The package will include a signals unit, communications unit, and logistics staff who will be deployed as part of the 2,250 military personnel. No infantry will be deployed, but the personnel include helicopter pilots, and military tactical staff, among others.

Currently, the UN is holding meetings with troop-contributing countries to determine who would be willing to send personnel to Darfur.

"The troops should be predominantly African," said Konare. "If this is not possible, we will look - with the approval of the Sudanese government - outside the continent."

A contingent of 301 police officers will be deployed, along with 1,136 civilian personnel to work on human rights issues, humanitarian affairs and civilian logistics, among other proposals. But only 150 civilian workers will be international staff.

All Light Support and Heavy Support UN-supplied workers will wear a blue beret with a distinguishing green armband, according to AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Said Jinnit. The blue and green represent the UN and AU, respectively. "This is another story of course when you reach the hybrid operation," he said.

The $21 million Light Support package has almost been completed, with a logistics, personnel, equipment, and humanitarian aid component. Eighty percent of all personnel have been recruited or identified - 105 military specialists and 30 police, according to a senior UN official.

But much more work lies ahead in the next few months that is critical to the success of both the current AU operation and the proposed UN support package. According to UN officials, the goal is to free up AMIS troops so they can carry out their mandate; but support needs to be given as soon as possible.

Funding

In order to place two more AMIS security battalions on the ground, funding must be forthcoming, according to Jinnit, especially because six security battalions were approved in September last year, but none have been placed due to lack of funds.

"Let's be honest. Without any sustainable financing, this will not be as sustainable as expected. Really, how can countries volunteer troops when they see that those they send are not able to survive financially?" an exasperated Konare said to reporters.

Tuesday's announcement by the Sudanese comes after months of disagreement
over proposals to boost international peacekeeping efforts in Darfur. Continued cooperation is essential for the success of the operations. For example, in order to accommodate more people and troops, the government will have to provide land and water resources for camps to be built.

Diplomats in New York are, however, optimistic that the transition from the Light package to Heavy package will pave the way for the estimated 20,000-strong Hybrid force, the most controversial part of the plan for the Sudanese government

"You never know; we are talking about the situation today," Congolese Ambassador to the UN Basile Ikouebe told IRIN. "If you have to wait six months before the Hybrid operation can take place, it will be impossible to determine what will happen on the ground in the meantime. But it is a good step."

Lab/jm

[ENDS]

Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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