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PRESS CONFERENCE ON DARFUR PEACEKEEPING OPERATION

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

8 October 2007

A ceasefire in Sudan’s war-torn region of Darfur was critical to the success of the imminent African Union-United Nations peacekeeping operation there, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said today as he and Jane Holl Lute, Acting head, Department of Field Support, briefed correspondents at Headquarters.

Mr. Guéhenno said that negotiations in Libya would start three weeks from today, on 27 October, and it would be a tough process where a lot was at stake. As the situation on the ground was deteriorating, with reports of attacks on Haskanita, as well as on African Union peacekeepers, there was a serious risk that the escalation of violence would go beyond Darfur. Progress in Darfur was vital for the success of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, as well as for the 2009 elections. Progress in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was also key to the stabilization of the situation in Darfur.

He said the African Union and the United Nations had agreed on a comprehensive list of troop-contributing countries, and had shared that list with the Government of the Sudan. A technical assessment team was in Khartoum to explain the details of the plan, and a deployment plan would hopefully be finalized shortly, because it was of the essence to have a strong force on the ground.

Regarding that deployment, Mr. Guéhenno had three major concerns. The incident in Haskanita had shown the importance of having mobile troops with the capacity to dominate any situation. For that, capacities were needed that, even with the strong efforts of the African Union, were not yet available, to wit: transport helicopters and light tactical helicopters. European countries were meeting the challenge in Chad, but Chad and Darfur were related, and it was essential that there were also commitments in Darfur. If the right resources in Darfur were not available, all efforts to stabilize the region would be jeopardized.

Ms. Holl Lute said three benchmarks had been articulated by Security Council resolution 1769: to begin immediate deployment of capacities to put a headquarters in place; to have in place by October a headquarters that could assume the financial responsibility of reimbursing troop costs and other administrative tasks; and to finalize planning by December to transfer authority to the hybrid operation. All targets were on track. All of the most senior leadership posts had been identified and were on the ground. A budget of $1.5 billion for operations through June 2008 had been presented. A major procurement initiative to accommodate deployment of the heavy support package had been undertaken. In addition, there would be two battalions deploying to strengthen AMIS.

She said the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiations were also on track. Battalions now on the ground under AMIS that were scheduled to be rotated would be rotated and strengthened up to United Nations standards. The issue of land remained outstanding. There had been assurances at the highest level of the Sudanese Government that land would be made available. The airstrips in Darfur have been made, subject to the operation’s ability to upgrade and maintain them.

Asked about a timeline for full deployment of the United Nations-African Union hybrid operation, Mr. Guéhenno said the headquarters would be up and running in October. The reinforcement with two battalions to strengthen AMIS would be on the ground by the end of the month. Transfer of authority from AMIS to the hybrid operation would take place at the end of 2007. He could not say when “force enablers”, to give the force more mobility and firepower, would be available. Some of those vital capacities were missing, but were critical to the success of the mission. Because of the infrastructure, not more than a certain number of troops could be deployed, as space was not available. It would take, therefore, a significant part of 2008 to have the full strength of the force deployed. In the meantime, it was important to “beef up” the battalions that were being rotated. If that happened, with the availability of “force enablers” by the beginning of next year, there would be a mission with significant enhanced capacity compared to what was currently available.

Ms. Holl Lute answered a question about what had been done to prepare for the mission by saying that it was proceeding along four tracks: people; places; things; and processes such as SOFA negotiations and dialogue with the Government of the Sudan and with the African Union. She was satisfied with the progress being made on all four tracks.

Answering another question, she said that the question of land was not a consequence of the Government dragging its feet. Commitments to make land available had been made at the highest levels of Government, and must now be implemented at the local level. As for airstrips, negotiations were no longer taking place, as the airstrips had been made available. They must now be brought up to standards.

Mr. Guéhenno, addressing concerns that the airstrip, once updated, would be misused by the Government, said that by the time the use of the airstrips would be returned to the Government, there would be a real peace and the airstrips could be used for commercial traffic.

Responding to a question about the events in Haskanita, Mr. Guéhenno said that after the African Union camp had been overrun, the Government of the Sudan had taken control of the city, and there had been no African Union or United Nations presence. It was troubling that a city under the control of the Government could completely burn down. There were, however, no indications that, because of the events, troop-contributing countries were planning to leave the mission.

Addressing questions about the shortfall in helicopters and other necessary equipment, Mr. Guéhenno said that the shortfall was not due to the objections of Sudan’s Government but to a lack of offers by troop-contributing countries. The intention was first to get offers and then to deal with the Government. Some 18 transport helicopters and some six light tactical helicopters were needed. The light tactical helicopters were a critical capacity essential for close-air support in a situation such as Haskanita. In order to overcome that shortfall, he was in contact with troop-contributing countries. He also was drawing attention to the matter publicly, because, without the necessary capacities, the mission could not deliver.

He said he had mentioned Europe, because Europe had a big commitment in Chad. It also had a number of resources. However, he called on all countries in the world that had those helicopters to contribute. Those countries that had the capacity should consider how much of a priority Darfur was to them. Quiet talks were going on with a number of countries. It was a historical moment, and it was important now to help the people of Darfur achieve peace.

Ms. Holl Lute said deployment of the mission would not be halted if the necessary helicopters were not available, but it would be significantly impaired. Civilian utility helicopters could be brought in, but they would not substitute completely for the military equipment required. The operation would not come to a “screeching halt” because of shortfalls. Some troop-contributing countries had indicated an openness to reconsider. Also, there was no civilian or commercial substitute for the required light helicopters.

Asked whether he had received assurance from rebel groups that they would participate in the peace talks in Libya, he said a balance had to be struck between making sure that all key actors were represented and not putting the negotiations hostage to any splinter group that would want to prevent the negotiations from starting. The negotiation was a process with the first key goal to consolidate the ceasefire, so that then the negotiation could address all the complex issues, including wealth-sharing, necessary to achieve peace in Darfur.

Responding to a question about whether difficulties in negotiations would affect the deployment of the force, he said negotiations and deployment were connected, but, at the same time, deployment should not be held hostage to negotiations. The force would have an easier task if there was a solid ceasefire, than when there was a weak one. It was important to push on both fronts. Delaying deployment of the force because of a delay in negotiations would be a bad signal. The forces would have to go to Darfur and help stabilize the situation, thereby creating a better context for better, successful negotiations. As for a delay in negotiations because of the current violence, there must be a continued commitment to 27 October.

Answering another question, he said Egypt would have a significant participation in the force, but it would be less than 3,000 troops.

Addressing questions about alleged human rights abuses by a Rwandan general who was appointed as Deputy Force Commander, Mr. Guéhenno said that no Member State had substantiated the allegations, and the general had been appointed by a joint decision of the African Union and the United Nations. Although the United Nations had listened to allegations by human rights group, the Organization could only act on the basis of evidence.

Asked about the request by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to the Government of the Sudan to arrest Sudan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs because of his many crimes, he said, on the one hand, there could be no impunity and, on the other hand, the mandate of the peacekeeping operation was a distinct one. The two issues must, therefore, be separated.

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For information media • not an official record



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