Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The head of the United Nations peacekeeping arm said yesterday that he has begun contacting nations to field and equip a major deployment in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region but said the mission will need clear support from Sudan’s government if it is to succeed.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, U.N. undersecretary-general of peacekeeping operations, said in an interview that he hoped to see contributions from both developed and developing countries for the proposed Darfur mission, which will be much larger and have a far more extensive mandate than the hard-pressed 7,000-member African Union (AU) force now in the region.

“But the key now is for us to get the Sudan government fully on board,” Mr. Guehenno said during a Washington visit.

“There is an international strategic consensus developing, but we truly require the strategic cooperation of the Sudanese government to make it successful.”

The U.N. Security Council Tuesday approved a resolution calling on Khartoum to drop its objections to the U.N. peacekeeping mission. The western region of Sudan has been the scene of a brutal three-year civil war in which fighting against two local rebel groups has left nearly 200,000 dead and millions homeless.

The underfunded AU force has been unable to quell the violence, and Sudanese officials have sent mixed signals about a U.N. replacement force since signing a peace deal May 5 with the larger of the Darfur rebel movements.

Mr. Guehenno said a U.N. mission with broad international participation would “ease the political process” by assuring both the government and the rebels that no country or group of countries with an agenda was dominating the force.

But he added that no nation was willing to commit troops or resources to the force until the scope and size of the Darfur mission become clearer. He also said the AU force must be given greater resources until it can be relieved.

The Darfur deployment would be the most high-profile and politically sensitive new assignment for the U.N. peacekeeping agency since it was rocked by revelations of sexual misconduct by its troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other missions.

He said the willingness of the United States and Western allies to turn to the peacekeeping agency for Darfur was “a vote of confidence, in its way,” in the continuing usefulness of the U.N. peacekeeping force despite the sex scandal.

Mr. Guehenno said his agency had made good progress in implementing many of the reforms recommended in a critical March 2005 report on U.N. peacekeeping missions, which deploys 90,000 troops in 18 countries at an annual cost of $5 billion.

But he said better training and oversight of peacekeeping units would not address the root cause of the problem: the unwillingness of U.N. states to provide the money and other support for the missions they approve.

“The U.N. as a peacekeeper is a bargain, but if you try to do too much on the cheap, you run a great risk,” he said. “If you cut corners, it eventually comes back to hit you.”

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