Darfur peacekeeping set back by 6 months

( AP ) - U.N. peacekeeping forces lack the troops and equipment necessary to improve the situation in violence-wracked Darfur and will continue to be ineffective until mid-2008, the U.N. peacekeeping chief cautioned Wednesday.

United Nations officials are discussing with Ukraine and Russia ways of obtaining helicopters and other equipment while also considering pulling them away from other U.N. peacekeeping missions, said Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping.

Guehenno's warnings of "dire consequences" for Sudan, during a half-hour report to U.N. Security Council members, raised questions about whether the African Union-United Nations peacekeeeping mission that took over just this month can provide even for its own security.

In his assessment, Guehenno offered a grim outline of the council's options and the many political and bureaucratic obstacles they face. The beleaguered A.U.-U.N. mission, as the latest international effort to quell the widespread violence in western Sudan, has 9,000 soldiers and police officers, but it is supposed to have 26,000.

"We do not yet have guaranteed agreements from the (Sudanese) government on basic technical issues," Guehenno told the council. "The mission itself will not have the personnel or assets in place to implement its mandate for many months, even in the best-case scenario."

Khartoum has long resisted such a force, insisting it must be predominantly African.

"There is no good reason that these issues should persist ad infinitum," Guehenno said. "It is clear that these deployments must move more quickly if we are to have a material impact on the situation in the first half of this year."

He said there has been "a grave deterioration of the security situation" since his last briefing to the council a month ago.

Guehenno, a former French ambassador and career diplomat, also told reporters that Darfur poses "the greatest risk for the United Nations" in a decade.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday reproached Sudan for its soldiers firing two days earlier on a U.N. convoy of more than 20 "clearly marked" vehicles protected by South African peacekeepers, who did not return fire, according to U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas.

The convoy carried Russian personnel to western Darfur; a Sudanese driver suffered seven gunshot wounds. Ban insisted Sudan now "has to provide unequivocal guarantees" it will not risk another such incident, Montas said.

Britain's ambassador to the U.N., John Sawers, and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, each said that Sudan's delays were "unacceptable."

"The fact there has been persistent obstruction and foot-dragging by the Sudanese government means it is quite clear these delays are political and not technical," said Sawers.

Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, insisted, however, that his government is "cooperating on all issues" ranging from communications gear to night flights. "Our position is that it is a hybrid operation with an African character, and this should be reflected in the way the mission moves and expresses itself," Mohamad said.

"Let us seek as far as possible troops and forces from Africa," he told reporters. "Failing to do that, we can look for other options."

Sudan's objections, however, have led Sweden and Norway to drop plans to contribute 400 troops to the peacekeeping forces, the two countries announced Wednesday.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a joint statement that Sudan must bear "full responsibility" for the Scandinavian countries' decision to drop their contribution to the peacekeeping force.

" Sudan hinders Norway and Sweden from participating in this very necessary operation," the ministers said.

The troops, 160 from Sweden and 240 from Norway, were supposed to help build infrastructure in an early stage of the operation.

More than 200,000 people have died, and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in the Darfur region of western Sudan since ethnic African groups took up arms in 2003 over accusations that the Arab-dominated Sudanese government discriminated against them.

Arab militias allied to the government, known as janjaweed, are accused of a campaign of atrocities against ethnic African civilians, razing villages and raping women.

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