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Key role of policing in peacekeeping must be recognized: UN Police chief in Sudan

12 September 2007 Member States need to recognize the key role played by United Nations police in peacekeeping operations and be willing to contribute experienced officers, particularly for senior positions in the upcoming mission to Darfur, said the UN’s top police officer in Sudan, where the world body will field its largest UN Police contingent ever with over 6,400 officers.

“I would say to Member States that they have to realize that the police are an essential part of any peacekeeping operation. The big countries should contribute much, much more but because of national diversity it’s very important that the small countries like my own participate because many small streams create in the end a river,” UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) Police Commissioner Kai Vittrup told the UN News Service.

“It’s very important to get experienced officers for the higher positions. Officers who have operational or administrative experience and especially who have the will to lead, to be leaders,” said the experienced Danish officer who travels frequently to Darfur and is involved in preparing for the UN’s heavy support package to this western region.

“You can’t go to a mission in Darfur or anywhere else in the world and sit down as a senior manager and do nothing and just hope that things will just solve themselves by doing nothing. You can’t do that. You have to be engaged and dedicated, these are not just words.”

The Security Council approved the creation of a hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (to be known as UNAMID) in July and this will be composed of over 30,000 personnel, including over 19,500 military and more than 6,400 police officers. Mr. Vittrup is under no illusions however about the massive challenges this force will face, not least of which are the problems associated with the sheer size of Sudan.

“The big challenge is first of all the infrastructure. You are in a mission where the distance is unbelievable, Sudan is bigger than half of Europe and it takes many, many hours to go from point A to point B. Darfur is even more difficult because the infrastructure in terms of roads is almost non-existent, there are very, very few roads,” he said.

“Another thing is that you’re working in an international environment where those officers that you’re dealing with come from all parts of the world, so you have to be very much aware of national diversity, gender issues and all those things. You have to implement the mandate you have but you must also have a political sense to make sure that the whole mission is represented in the way that they should be.”

Mr. Vittrup also emphasized the importance of officers being culturally sensitive in their dealings with the local population and also to be aware of arriving in the mission with preconceived ideas.

“First of all, especially those officers who haven’t been in a mission to Africa before they have to realize there is a cultural difference and they have to respect this culture. It’s very often you see people, especially from Europe, making an assessment of people here based on their own culture, you can’t do that.”

“You have to respect this is the way they are living, this is the way they are acting and then be aware that every single child that you meet in the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, everyone of them has exactly the same right to a decent life in peace and security that you have.”

Conflict between rebels, Government forces and allied Janjaweed militia has engulfed the impoverished Darfur region since 2003, causing the deaths of more than 200,000 people and forcing at least 2.2 million others to flee their homes.

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