UN panel finds ‘mess’ in Darfur

April 23rd, 2008 - 8:22 am ICT by admin  

New York, April 23 (DPA) The UN Security Council president Tuesday declared efforts to stop killings in Darfur a “mess” while Sudan’s ambassador to the UN insisted the death toll in the country’s western province was only a fraction of that recorded by the UN. Council president South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo was reacting to a report from the UN representative in Darfur, who described an ethnic conflict that continues to rage on in a state of lawlessness and impunity while the deployment of a joint UN-African Union is bogged down by enormous difficulties resulting from the weather as well as severe logistical problems.

In the meantime, Sudan’s presentative at the UN accused the top UN relief coordinator, John Holmes, of presenting a humanitarian report in Darfur to the 15-nation council that was “not objective and unprofessional”.

“There is no starvation in Darfur,” said Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Mohamad, adding that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Darfur have been there to “make money” for themselves.

“Those NGOs will not be happy when the conflict is over,” Mohamad said.

Mohamad also denied there had been hundreds of thousands of dead in Darfur since the ethnic conflict began in 2003. He said the Sudanese government estimated the total death toll as a result of the fighting at no more than 10,000.

The World Health Organization estimated that the total death toll in Darfur stood at 200,000 in 2006, comprising combat-related deaths as well as deaths from famine and diseases. The NGOs said the total death toll had reached over 300,000 last year.

The UN had been using the WHO figure of 200,000, but added that the number of dead is well over that figure by now.

Mohamad clashed with Holmes, a former British ambassador, after he and the UN representative in Darfur, Rodolphe Adada of Congo, briefed the council on the situation in Darfur. But Mohamad did not criticize Adada.

Following the briefing, council president Kumalo told reporters, “We are in a mess.”

Kumalo said the peacekeeping operation and humanitarian assistance in Darfur has been “slow”. But he said the political process, including the crucial peace negotiations to end the Darfur conflict, was not working.

With the rainy season now upon Darfur, Kumalo said, “It’s depressing”.

Adada gave the council a grim picture of international efforts in Darfur. He said since the January’s deployment of the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID, the force is still lacking operational capabilities, attack helicopters, military engineers and logistical support.

Only 40 percent of the authorized 20,000 military personnel had been deployed and it would take at least another year to complete the military deployment. Once UNAMID is fully deployed with civilian and police components, the force will be the UN’s largest peacekeeping operation in the world at more than 30,000 personnel.

Adada said UN-AU forces are serving under “exceptionally difficult conditions, facing daily dangers and hardships.”

He said the difficulties would not go away in the coming three months because of the coming rainy season, which will make roads impassable. The rotation of four Nigerian battalions and one South African battalion will put UNAMID under considerable additional pressure while fresh troops were being sent in.

The long line of traffic from Port Sudan at the Red Sea to Darfur under rainy and difficult road conditions will add to problems of local contractors to bring in supplies for UN-AU troops. But Adada said China has promised to send an engineering company, Egypt will send an infantry battalion and Bangladesh a logistic company.

Adada said Darfurians have become frustrated and disappointed by the peace process and agreements reached by Khartoum and some rebel groups.

“Unfortunately, it is commonly understood today in Darfur that peace is not at all attractive, neither economically and politically,” Adada said.

“The challenge facing UNAMID is formidable in all aspects,” he said.

Holmes said in his presentation that a further 100,000 civilians have been forced to flee Darfur so far in 2008, adding to the 2.45 million Darfurians displaced by the fighting since 2003. He said an additional 260,000 people had become refugees in neighbouring countries.

“Elsewhere in Darfur, hostilities between the parties, intra-rebel and tribal clashes, aerial bombardments, and the resurgence of Janjaweed militias have resulted in death, displacement, and widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” Holmes said.

“So Darfur today is still characterized by insecurity, lawlessness and impunity,” Holmes said.

Holmes said a total of 106 vehicles and trucks carrying food supplies belonging to the UN, NGOs and the World Food Programme had been hijacked so far this year. He said one WFP contractor was killed while 26 drivers were still missing.

He called on the Sudanese government to do much more to protect relief convoys and to stop armed groups from attacking them.

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