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Long-awaited helicopters arrive for UN-African Union mission in Darfur

25 February 2010 – The joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region has received five crucial long-awaited helicopters to help it protect civilians in a seven-year conflict between the Government and rebels that has killed at least 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million others from their homes.

“I hereby pledge that we will do our utmost to make optimum use of the helicopters in the discharge of our core mandate, which is the protection of the civilian population and the support for the creation of a safe and secure environment,” Ibrahim Gambari, the head of the mission, known as UNAMID, said today at a ceremony on the new apron at Nyala airport, South Darfur.

The five Mi-35P tactical helicopters were sent by Ethiopia, whom Mr. Gambari warmly thanked, adding that the aircraft would “deter those who might threaten peace and stability in Darfur.”

Ever since UNAMID was set up two years ago, UN officials have lamented the slow arrival of essential logistical equipment such as helicopters which, the Mission said today, will enhance its ability to protect civilians and enable a swift and effective response to any developing emergency on the ground.

UNAMID will now be able to reach many areas which had previously been inaccessible but it still needs 18 utility helicopters to provide the required air mobility and operational flexibility, the mission’s Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, said, voicing hope that other countries would follow Ethiopia’s example in pledging air support.

Mr. Gambari thanked Sudan for the cooperation and coordination which led to the smooth entry into service of the aircraft in Darfur. Earlier this week, the Government and a major rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), signed a cessation of hostilities accord.

Representing the Government today, Mohammed Abdullah Idriss, Director of Peace and Humanitarian Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, thanked Mr. Gambari for UNAMID’s contributions to the negotiations leading to the agreement. “UNAMID has become the mission of the people,” he said.

The arrival of the helicopters is “welcomed and celebrated” by the Sudanese Government, he added, highlighting its “commitment to cooperate with the mission to implement its mandate.”

UNAMID currently fields nearly 20,000 uniformed personnel, including over 15,000 troops and 4,500 police with a mandate to help bring peace and stability to the vast region, protect civilians, and contribute to a secure environment for economic reconstruction and development. Ethiopia is one of the top contributors with over 2,500 peacekeepers.

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