KHARTOUM, Sudan: Restrictions by Sudan’s government and the inadequate equipment of some peacekeepers in the Darfur region are hindering their ability to protect civilians and aid workers as violence increases, the UN chief says.
Ban Ki-moon made the comments in a review of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) which the UN Security Council ordered last July.
AFP received a copy of Ban’s report on Sunday as the peacekeepers reported a third major outbreak of violence had occurred across the vast region in recent days.
Ban called on the Security Council to endorse a set of measures, to be implemented over 12 months, “so that UNAMID can more effectively assist the many civilians affected by violence, insecurity and deprivation in Darfur”.
While UNAMID has “some impact” in protecting civilians and aid delivery, “its effectiveness is seriously constrained by access restrictions and mobility constraints and shortfalls in the operational capabilities of several troop and police contingents,” Ban’s report says.
The six-year-old mission with more than 19,000 soldiers and police is one of the world’s largest peacekeeping operations.
But the dynamics of Darfur’s 11-year-old conflict, where clashes between rebels and government forces continue sporadically, have changed recently, prompting the review.
“Eleven years since the rebellion began, the situation in Darfur remains deeply troubling,” Ban said.
Over the past two years, Sudan’s deteriorating economy has led to worsening crime and intercommunal clashes, the report says, adding that some cash-poor paramilitaries have joined the tribal fighting over gold and other resources.
UNAMID itself has increasingly become a victim of the region’s violence.
“In 2013, UNAMID suffered 19 attacks, resulting in 16 dead and 27 injured and a significant loss of vehicles, weapons and ammunition,” Ban says.
The UN says 380,000 people were uprooted in Darfur in 2013 — more than in any year since 2004 at the height of the conflict.
Fresh fighting has forced thousands to flee their homes in Saraf Omra town, UNAMID said on Sunday.
– ‘More robust’ –
UNAMID peacekeepers were repeatedly denied access to another region where villages had recently been reported burned, the mission said last week.
But UN agencies in Sudan have “called for UNAMID troops to adopt a more robust posture when faced with restrictions of movement to crisis-affected areas”, Ban says.
Sudan’s Humanitarian Aid Commission has said it is committed to enabling the relief work of UN and other organizations.
Although a relatively small number of UNAMID’s movements face Sudanese government obstacles, their impact is significant because they typically occur in situations of acute needs, Ban’s report says.
At the same time, it adds that some UNAMID personnel too easily turn back instead of being assertive when they are stopped at checkpoints.
Ban says government delays in customs clearance for UNAMID equipment have hindered the mission, although Sudanese visas for UNAMID personnel have been issued more quickly over the past year.
Ban also cited deficiencies in the peacekeepers’ equipment, training and readiness.
“Those shortfalls seriously constrain the force’s mobility, effectiveness and ability to deter attacks,” he said, adding there is a need for better coordination within UNAMID as well as between the mission and aid agencies.
He cited the inadequacy of armored personnel carriers used by one-quarter of UNAMID’s special police units, and said some military contingents “have not deployed with the authorized higher caliber weapons”.
UNAMID was expecting three transport helicopters early this year but five others which are badly needed have not been pledged by member states, Ban said.
He urged the mission to adopt a “pre-emptive” posture.
In response to Darfur’s changed environment, Ban said UNAMID should focus on three priorities, including the protection of civilians and aid operations.
There should also be a concentration on mediation between the government and the major rebel groups which have not signed a 2011 peace deal.
The third priority is support for the mediation of Darfur’s community conflicts, Ban said.