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UN military chiefs appeal for more troops and equipment

afrol News, 7 August - The military chiefs of the United Nations’ largest and most complex peacekeeping operations have urged member states to provide the troops and equipment necessary to carry out their missions in the war-ravaged regions of Darfur in western Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“We have had a challenging time to meet all our mandated tasks because of the issue of deployment and lack of capabilities,” General Martin Luther Agwai, Force Commander of the joint African Union-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID), told reporters in New York yesterday.

The Security Council authorised the deployment of UNAMID to quell fighting and protect civilians in Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have been killed and some 2.7 million others forced from their homes since fighting erupted in 2003, pitting Government forces and allied Janjaweed militiamen against rebel groups.

UNAMID has been working in Darfur, having less than 70 percent of the authorised number of troops under the 2007 Security Council resolution setting up the force, said Gen Agwai.

In addition, “we have been able to be one of the best sources of authenticated information of what is happening in Darfur,” he said. “We have come a long way, but there are still a lot of challenges, no doubt about it.”

At current strength UNAMID is unable to provide full-time security to all of the makeshift camps sheltering the millions of people who have fled the violence engulfing the region over the years.

“We have not been able to have a 24/7 protection coverage in most of the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps,” said Gen Agwai. “We have prioritized the most vulnerable and volatile camps.”

He noted that some of the displaced people camps have 90,000 to 100,000 people taking refuge in tents and makeshift shelters.

“The bigger the camps the more volatile and problematic they are and those are the ones with a 24/7 UNAMID presence,” he said, including patrols that protect women when out collecting firewood.

With full deployment the mission would be more mobile and have a further reach, “instead of [looking like] very small ink spots on blotting paper. [We currently have] 32 spots, but we’re beginning to expand and spread.”

Gen Agwai expected 92 percent deployment by the end of the year, but stressed that there is little “point having boots without capabilities. Ethiopia has now pledged five [attack] helicopters to the mission … [but] to the best of my knowledge nobody has pledged one utility helicopter to the mission.”

As a sign of UNAMID contributing to an increasing sense of security in the region, Gen Agwai said that the incidence of rapes and assaults has been cut. “The number of people dying because of the crisis is down. The figure is now ranging from about 120 to 150 deaths in a month and not hundreds or thousands in a month as in the past.”

The UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, known as MONUC, is effectively engaged in three separate military operations, said the operations Force Commander, Lieutenant-General Babacar Gaye.

MONUC is supporting the Congolese army (FARDC) in an offensive against the notorious Ugandan rebel militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on one front; a group of remnant armed groups in Ituri province in northeastern DRC; and a Rwandan rebel force, known as the FDLR, in North and South Kivu.

“Our mission is so far the largest peacekeeping mission deployed around the world and we are facing all the challenges that peacekeeping have to face today,” Lt-Gen Gaye told the press briefing. “This means the use of force, the protection of civilians and so on and so forth.”

The latest bout of fighting between DRC troops and the rebel FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) and their local allies uprooted a further 35,000 people in South Kivu last month, bringing the total displaced there since January to 536,000, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). More than 1.8 million people are now internally displaced in the DRC’s east.

Lt-Gen Gaye stressed the drastic need for extra troops on the ground to implement MONUC’s protection mandate. “Everything is on track but unfortunately the first boots are still expected.”

He said that MONUC is slated to soon receive a Bangladeshi battalion, an Egyptian battalion, a Jordanian special force company, an Egyptian special force company and a Bangladeshi engineer company.

“Unfortunately, we are yet to have the 18 helicopters that have been authorised by the Council,” he added.

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