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US envoy hopeful of more Darfur peacekeepers PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 15 August 2008

Khartoum,aug 13 ( - International peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur region look set to receive substantial reinforcements after months of under-manning, the US envoy to Sudan said on Tuesday.

Richard Williamson last month criticized both the United Nations and Sudan for the slow roll-out of the joint UN/African Union UNAMID peacekeeping force, which currently has only 9,900 of the 26,000 soldiers and police officers promised at the beginning of the year.

But sounding a rare note of optimism on peace efforts in the war-torn region, Williamson said on Tuesday he had seen "specific plans" to increase troop numbers.

"Unfortunately performance has not been acceptable to date," he told reporters, half-way through a week-long visit to Sudan.

"But we have reason to be encouraged and hopeful that the pace of the past will be reversed and we will see substantially more peacekeepers here in Darfur."

He said he had been shown the expansion plans by UN officials in New York and during a visit on Monday to UNAMID's headquarters in El Fasher, Darfur.

Both the UN and Sudan have come under sustained criticism for the slow deployment of the UNAMID force, which is supposed to keep the peace in a region the size of France.

International experts say some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been made homeless in Darfur since rebels took up arms against the government five years ago. Sudan puts the death count at around 10,000.


Analysts have accused Khartoum of obstructing the peacekeeping deployment by delaying key agreements and refusing to accept non-African troops. Williamson last month said the UN's procedures were too inflexible to cope with the situation in Darfur.

At a news conference at the United Nations on Tuesday, UNAMID commander Gen. Martin Luther Agwai said he was "very optimistic that the mission is going to succeed."

"Sometimes things have to get bad to get better. Maybe we have seen the worst in Darfur and we'll begin to see the best out of the mission," he said.

Agwai said UNAMID was hoping to achieve its latest target of 80 percent deployment by the end of this year but he held open the possibility it might fall slightly short. He forecast full deployment by the end of next summer or early fall.

In Sudan, UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni on Tuesday accepted there had been delays in the deployment, blaming poor infrastructure on the ground.

The last of an advance guard for two new Egyptian battalions arrived in Sudan on Tuesday, he said, adding that a similar Ethiopian operation was due to start next week.

Williamson said there were also signs of new life in Darfur's long and troubled peace process.

"I think there is a serious reassessment going on about how to energize a peace process in Darfur," he said after a meeting with Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor.

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