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UN: Sudan Violence Threatens Deployment of Darfur Peacekeepers


The United Nations is very concerned about the recent deterioration in security in Sudan, following a weekend attack by rebels close to the capital, Khartoum, that reportedly killed more than 200 people. The U.N.'s top peace keeping official warned the worsening of security could further hamper the already slow deployment of some 26,000 U.N. and African Union peacekeepers to the war-torn Darfur region. From U.N. Headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Both the Security Council and the U.N. secretariat have condemned Saturday's attack by rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement - or JEM - near Khartoum.

U.N. Chief of Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told the Council Wednesday that he is very concerned that such a large number of JEM fighters from Darfur were able to advance across the country to Khartoum undetected.

"The incident underscores the serious shortfalls in the mission's resources, especially aerial reconnaissance capabilities," he said.

For some months, the peacekeeping mission, known as UNAMID, has been asking donor countries for equipment to fill critical shortfalls - particularly combat and transport helicopters.

Guéhenno said an escalation in violence over the past month has also impacted humanitarian operations, as banditry and hijackings have led to lost aid supplies, recently forcing food agencies to halve rations to more than three million needy people in Darfur.

But despite setbacks, Guéhenno said the U.N. would work to meet 2008 deployment targets - which include deploying about 80 percent of the mandated 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur by year's end.

"We in the secretariat will continue to move ahead, we won't be deterred," he said. "Despite the very difficult circumstances, we will make every effort to deploy what we are expected to deploy."

But he cautioned that for that to happen it would require flexibility from several actors - including the government of Sudan, troop contributing countries and other donors.

Guéhenno said the other vital element is for violence to cease so the political process can move forward. This concern was echoed by Security Council President John Sawers of the United Kingdom.

"Most important is that we get all the parties to agree to a cessation of hostilities and to have a proper, intensive political process underway," he said. "We don't have either of those at the moment."

The U.N.'s Guéhenno said peacekeepers deployed into the middle of a conflict can have only limited results. He said more troops and more political will are needed for real results.

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