Five countries have offered to supply soldiers and police for a United Nations mission to support a beleaguered African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. From U.N. headquarters, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports diplomats are hoping to have a full support package in operation by September.
Nigeria, Egypt, Bangladesh, Sweden and Norway Thursday became the first countries to offer personnel for the planned 3,600 strong U.N. support mission in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region. The U.N. force is to back up a 7,000 strong African Union mission that has struggled to keep peace in a vast area the size of France.
The offers of troops, police and medical units came at a meeting of potential contributing countries at U.N. headquarters. The head of the Africa section of the U.N. peacekeeping office, Dmitry Titov, said he was encouraged by the large number of offers of help. "There was considerable interest. The room was full," he said.
Titov acknowledged that the African Union peacekeeping mission is overmatched in its efforts to bring peace to an area where more than 200,000 people have died in four years of war. He pointed to the deaths of at least seven peacekeepers from the A.U. mission known as AMIS this month.
"AMIS is in dire straits. As put by their force commander, they are struggling valiantly on the ground, but sometimes they are outmaneuvered, outgunned and outperformed. And we see that in casualties," he said.
Titov Thursday said no date has been set for deployment of the U.N. support mission. But Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry, who is president of the Security Council for April, told reporters it will be several months before the force is operational.
"We have to do everything possible to produce the heavy support package on the ground at the earliest date, and that, with the best will in the world, we're not likely to be able to do that before September," he said.
A senior western diplomat said Thursday that even under the most optimistic circumstances, deployment of a 20,000 strong joint African Union-United Nations force peacekeeping force would not be expected until December at the earliest, and probably well into next year.
Sudan has not yet agreed to accept that so-called 'hybrid force'.
In a related development, the Khartoum government Thursday rejected allegations that it was illegally flying weapons to Darfur. A U.N. experts report leaked to the New York Times this week included photographs that suggest Sudan is painting military planes white to make them look like United Nations aircraft.
Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Abdulmahmood Abdulhaleem ridiculed the allegations, calling them 'baseless'. He charged that the report's leak had been engineered by Sudan's enemies to overshadow positive developments, including the government's agreement to allow the U.N. support mission into Darfur.