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SUDAN: U.N. Seeks African Troops for New Hybrid Force

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 13 2007 (IPS) - The United Nations is saddled with the arduous task of raising a 17,000 to 20,000-strong peacekeeping force for the politically troubled Darfur region in Sudan following a long-awaited agreement for the creation of a joint U.N.-African Union (AU) mission for that country.

Rwandan troops at the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in Khartoum, Sudan.  Credit: UN Photo/Fred Noy

Rwandan troops at the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in Khartoum, Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Fred Noy

"Since Sudanese President Omar El-Bashir has insisted that the proposed peacekeeping force should either be all-African or mostly African," a Third World diplomat told IPS, "the United Nations may be hard-pressed to find the necessary troops at short notice."

Last year, El-Bashir told reporters that U.N. troops will be permitted into his country "only over my dead body".

"These are colonial forces," he said of the proposed U.N. peacekeeping mission. "We will not allow colonial forces into the country."

After months of foot-dragging, he has relented, but only after laying down one condition: that the proposed force should be predominantly African.

So far, four countries – Egypt and Nigeria (categorised as African), and Pakistan and China (non-African) – have offered troops. The two non-African nations have volunteered to provide mostly engineering companies.

A 7,000-strong AU Mission in the Sudan (AMIS) has been in Darfur since 2004 and will eventually become part of the new U.N.-AU hybrid peacekeeping force.

Neither the United States nor the European Union members have offered any troops so far.

Bill Fletcher, Jr., a former president of TransAfrica Forum and who closely monitors political developments in Africa, said there should be no U.S. or European troops in the Sudan.

"This would be both inflammatory and counter-productive," he told IPS.

He said that the United States, specifically, "lacks the moral credibility to deploy troops anywhere, particularly in light of the illegal war and occupation of Iraq."

A combination of African and non-African forces in the Sudan is reasonable if Africans are taking the lead, he argued.

Many African nations that wish to commit forces lack the financial or logistical assets in order to do so successfully. In that regard, gaining the active support of non-African nations could enhance the possibility of success, he added.

"If the Sudanese balk on non-African forces, then their Chinese allies should lean on them to come to a more reasonable understanding," said Fletcher, a New York-based international activist and writer.

In either case, he said, the United States can best help this situation by providing financial assistance to the AU and the United Nations to underwrite the cost of this operation.

U.N. spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters Tuesday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is looking forward to quickly implementing the hybrid force.

"The situation in Darfur has reached a crossroads, with dire humanitarian and security conditions, continued attacks against civilians and African Union peacekeepers, inter-tribal fighting and aerial bombardments," Ban told reporters recently.

He called for an immediate end to hostilities and a comprehensive solution, including political reconciliation and economic development, to the conflict.

Asked whether Sudan&#39s acceptance of the hybrid force was unconditional, Montas said the government has already called for African troops, "but the U.N. had always planned to deploy a large number of African troops to the region, although this depended on availability."

She also said that some issues raised about land, water and deployment still needed to be finalised with the Sudanese government.

The AU and the United Nations have two options before them: under one plan, there would be 19,555 troops, and under the other there would be 17,605 troops. The police component would number about 3,772 officers.

The hybrid operation is described as the third phase of a three-step process to replace the existing but under-resourced AU-AMIS force.

The United Nations, which will be overseeing a "hybrid operation" for the first time, is anticipating problems of coordination and also command and control.

One U.N. official describes it as "unchartered territory." "The more hybrid it is, the more difficult it becomes," the official said.

Montas said Sudan is talking about troops from Africa, not from any specific African country. Although it was the secretary-general&#39s prerogative to decide on the composition of any peacekeeping force, she said, &#39&#39it would be difficult to deploy national contingents if they are not accepted by the host country.&#39&#39

The United Nations expects to take charge of overall control of the peacekeeping force while day-to-day operations will be with the AU force commander.

According to U.N. figures, more than 200,000 people have been killed and at least two million others displaced from their homes since clashes erupted in 2003 between government forces, allied Janjaweed militias and rebel groups.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has already expressed reservations about the conditions laid down by Sudan.

On Tuesday, he was quoted as saying: "If this is an unconditional acceptance, it would be a positive step that we would welcome. But if it is conditional, as we heard, that there will be only African troops involved and no non-Africans, that is putting a condition that would be unacceptable."

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