Last week, the United Nations Security Council approved plans to send an expanded peacekeeping force to Sudan's Darfur region. From VOA's New York bureau, Suzanne Presto reports that officials say preparations are already underway to deploy U.N. peacekeepers to create a joint United Nations-African Union force.
U.N. officials say the plan is to immediately set up command and control elements to convert the current African Union peacekeeping force into an hybrid mission by December 31st.
Jane Holl Lute, the U.N.'s assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, says the U.N. plans to establish mission headquarters in El Fasher in October. By that time, she adds, the U.N. must also set up administrative elements to transfer authority from the A.U. to the hybrid U.N.-A.U. mission. "So the clock is ticking, and there are expectations. So this will translate into people on the ground, capabilities on the ground, resources on the ground of sufficient number to meet credibly the benchmarks that have been established by the Council," she said.
Lute says more than 30,000 people will be in Sudan as part of this peacekeeping mission. This includes more than 19,000 military personnel, about 6,400 police officers, and between 4,000 and 5,000 civilian employees.
But the UN official says the mission needs more equipment to get troops and supplies in place. "We still are missing some pledges for key enabling capabilities in the area of movement, for example, and in the area of aviation, but we are very pleased with the number of, for example, infantry battalions that have been pledged. We are hitting the target of a predominantly African force and we're very pleased about that," he said.
Lute said she has been speaking to the A.U. force commander to gain a broader understanding of the needs of the operation. She says the lack of water in the dry, remote region will pose a major challenge for the joint force. "But, again, we think that we can both anticipate the degree of problems and adjust providing that we have the continuing support of the governments of Sudan and the support of the troop and police contributing countries and other member states to facilitate the deployment of this mission," he said.
Lute noted that this mission is unprecedented, and the funding for the hybrid force will come through the U.N. Lute says the budget is still being hammered out, but she estimates the mission will cost more than two billion dollars each year.
She stresses the peacekeeping mission's success is tied to the Sudanese government's cooperation. "Obviously this mission will depend on the continued support and agreement of the government of Sudan that that force can go into place. We have every expectation that that support will be forthcoming," he said.
The joint United Nations-African Union force will try to end four years of fighting between rebel groups and the government-backed janjaweed militia in the Darfur region of western Sudan. The conflict has left more than 200,000 people dead and another two million displaced.