August 3, 2008 (CAIRO) – The commander of the joint UN and African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Darfur (UNAMID) called for the inclusion of non-African contingents among his troops.
- General Martin Luther Agwai, Force Commander of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) (AFP)
The Nigerian general Martin Luther Agwai wrote an article titled “There is no peace to keep” in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram expressing disappointment over lack of support to UNAMID by the international community.
“It is time for the international community to take up its responsibility towards UNAMID. The force is undermanned and lacks equipments…We don’t have any tactical helicopters that could have prevented the killings of our forces” he said.
A lack of helicopters is one of the main problems facing the UN-AU mission in Sudan’s Darfur region. The UN has for months been seeking 6 attack and 18 transport helicopters to support the force but the countries asked for help have said they have none available.
But a report issued last week by former US President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and child rights activist Graca Machel said that many countries would easily be able to provide the helicopters required.
General Agwai also said that it was “imperative” that discussions be conducted to expand the composition of the UNAMID force in terms of participating countries.
“Resolution 1769 which authorized UNAMID speaks about predominantly African character of the force but it does not say that it should be exclusively African” he added.
“With the known limitations of African countries that contribute to UNAMID we should now be able to turn to non-African countries that are willing and able to help us in a short period of time. People of Darfur deserve nothing less than that” Agwai stressed.
Khartoum has long insisted that it will not accept Western troops or even from other continents unless all African options are exhausted.
Last year Norway and Sweden withdrew their offers for engineering units in face of Sudan’s resistance. The Sudanese government has also has been reluctant to accept the Thai and Nepalese units offered.
The UNAMID commander also called on Khartoum to do more to ease the crisis in Darfur.
“Allowing forces from other countries, removing genuine or artificial bureaucratic obstacles that faces UNAMID and aid organizations, dialogue with rebel groups and cracking down on their militias will send the strong message that the government is doing all it can to bring peace to Darfur” he said.
Agwai also hinted that the Sudanese government may be connected to the July 8th attack on UNMAID that left 7 peacekeepers dead and 22 wounded.
“The Sudanese government must realize that the attack in Umm Hagiba is not in the interest of any party. Involving the joint mission in the conflict will reduce chances for a peaceful settlement” he warned.
Last month Jean-Marie Guehenno, the outgoing head of UN peacekeeping operations told a closed session of the UN Security Council (UNSC) that the attack was a “well-prepared” operation conducted in a government-controlled area.
Guehenno said that the ambush was designed “to inflict casualties” and was carried out with “equipment usually not used by (rebel) militias” said a diplomat who attended the meeting.
However Sudan denied involvement and blamed Darfur rebels for standing behind the ambush.
The UNAMID commander also criticized splintering rebel groups and said that “they do not represent their people who want peace”.
“For a long time these groups were safe from reprimand, making use of the focus of international community on Khartoum…It is time that the rebels show that they are serious about peace” he said.
Agwai said that the attack on peacekeepers last month is a reminder that “this conflict is getting out of control and that the international community, rebels and Sudan must work immediately to bring back peace and security”.
“I am determined to ensure that the lives of our brave peacekeepers under my command who were killed in Umm Hagiba did not go in vain” he said.
International experts also say more than 300,000 were killed and 2 million have been driven from their homes by the conflict in Darfur, a region that is roughly the size of France.