Global Policy Forum

Rebel Groups Must Unite to Reach Lasting Solution for Darfur

UN News Service
August 12, 2008

The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) had an authorized strength of 20,000 troops and 6,000 police, but both components combined stood at less than 10,000 personnel, Force Commander Martin Luther Agwai said at Headquarters today.

"It's just like pushing us in a boxing ring and tying our hands behind, and you want us to box; and then tomorrow, if we don't box properly, you blame us," General Agwai said at a press conference, pointing out that, although UNAMID had 10 battalions on the ground, only two of them were 800 strong, as per United Nations requirements. In connection with the 8 July attack on his peacekeepers, he said that had UNAMID had at least half the helicopters it needed, the injured, who had languished for more than 24 hours while awaiting evacuation, would have received help sooner. The Mission would have been able to move military helicopters day and night, which it could not do with contracted aircraft. If it had helicopters today, the parties to the conflict in Darfur would interact with it in a different fashion.

General Awai said the Mission had been given a task, but when it had asked for helicopters, nobody had initially offered any. Ethiopia has since offered seven, but negotiations were still continuing. The Mission also lacked such important requirements as a transport company and fixed-wing surveillance aircraft. It was also important to remember that the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) had been a donor-driven mission, and the end of donors funding had left UNAMID facing a transition to contingent-owned equipment. It was now doing the best it could with the little it had to give a new life and hope to the people of Darfur.

Responding to a question about recent troubling events on the ground, he said that sometimes things had "to get bad to get better", and that maybe the world had already seen the worst in Darfur. Among the positive developments was the arrival of 126 peacekeepers from Egypt, which gave the Mission a complete company of badly needed engineers

By the time of the next troop rotation, between October and December, all battalions would be reinforced with almost 2,000 additional forces, he continued. It was to be hoped that the Ethiopian and Egyptian battalions would also be fully deployed by the end of the year, notwithstanding the fact that their contingent-owned equipment had been "floating between Port Sudan and their location since March this year". The issue of Thailand's and Nepal's participation in the Mission should also be resolved by then.

In response to numerous questions, including one about the intention to achieve 80 per cent deployment by the end of the year, he said it was his sincere hope that UNAMID would be able to reach that target. Everybody in the Mission was "working day and night", together with Headquarters, to ensure that was done. Once that goal was accomplished, UNAMID was expected to have "a smooth drive" and, hopefully, full deployment would be achieved before the rainy season next year.

Many lessons had been learned since the transfer of authority from AMIS to UNAMID on 31 December 2007, he said. Some of the difficulties encountered in the beginning related to moving equipment across the vast country's often impassable roads, and to the fact that deployment had been authorized before implementation of the Heavy Support Package. With the arrival of enablers, the Mission would, hopefully, benefit from smoother logistics.

Asked about the International Criminal Court Prosecutor's request for an indictment of the President of Sudan, he said a soldier was to be seen and not heard. "So I keep my views to myself. I believe that those who take decisions know why they take those decisions. I sincerely believe that everything would have to be looked at in totality before those decisions were arrived at. What I would want to see now is how we can make the best out of the existing situation."

As for the comments by Government officials to the effect that the Mission would be "kicked out" of Sudan if the President was indicted, he said the Government had disassociated itself from those comments, and he was taking the Government more seriously than the individuals who had made them.

He added that, either following the death of several peacekeepers in July, or as a result of the International Criminal Court's actions, the Government of Sudan was more cooperative with UNAMID now, and the rebel movements were also stretching out their hands to the Mission. However, it was still in a very dangerous and delicate situation; only yesterday, one of its helicopters had been fired upon.

Asked what measures were required, General Agwai stressed the importance of flexibility, pointing out that, with up to 30 rebel groups -- or movements, as they called themselves -- on the ground, one should not put too much light on one party. "Let's also put enough pressure on the other party." Most of the groups had completely lost command and control, with the exception of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Under those circumstances, it was "very convenient" to blame the Government of Sudan alone, he said. While that did not mean the Government was "clean", the other side should not be seen as saints, either. Pressure should be exerted on both sides, especially now, given the appointment of the Joint Mediator. The movements should at least agree on what needed to be discussed. Asked about Deputy Force Commander Emmanuel Karenzi of Rwanda, who had been accused of war crimes, he said he had a "good rapport" with Major General Karenzi. "I cannot make a comment on what I do not know."Accompanying General Agwai was Lieutenant General Chikadibia Isaac Obiakor, the newly appointed Military Adviser in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

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