The U.N. Security Council is confronting growing concern about the credibility of its peace mission in the western Sudan's Darfur region. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, more than half the force has yet to be deployed, and the security situation has not improved much.
It has been nearly six months since the U.N. peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) replaced an African Union force seen as undermanned and under-resourced in Darfur.
But the force has had little success in improving the security situation. When rebels from Darfur's Justice and Equality Movement attacked the outskirts of the Sudanese capital Khartoum last month, U.N. peacekeepers could do little.
One reason is that the force is not much different at this point than the A.U. mission it replaced. The force is supposed to number 26,000, but fewer than 10,000 troops have deployed. The bulk of them are African Union peacekeepers who simply donned the U.N. blue helmets.
In part, this has been caused by roadblocks from the Sudanese government in Khartoum that says it does not want troops from several non-African countries.
But the lack of troops, logistical support and resources such as attack and cargo helicopters is also caused by weak commitment from countries backing the mission. The head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, described the problem last month in New York at a news conference marking the 60th anniversary of U.N. peacekeeping.
"Do we have enough resources to protect ourselves and therefore to protect the people we have come to help? Frankly, as I have told you before, we do not have them in Darfur," he noted. "We do not have the mobility. We do not have the firepower that would allow us to do what we are expected to do and that is very dangerous."
On May 21 a convoy of Nigerian peacekeepers was ambushed by gunmen. On May 29, the U.N. peacekeeping anniversary, the first U.N. peacekeeper, a police inspector from Uganda, was killed in Darfur.
Guehenno said afterward:
"I have spoken to the force commander who is doing everything to push the force to do the best with what it has. But it is a very dangerous balancing act, because if you hunker down, you lose the trust of the population, which wants you to be all over the place patrolling and making a difference," he explained. "But if you move around but you do not have enough resources you may be victim to the kind of incidents that have happened in the last few days."
Guehenno was skeptical of the decision to authorize a force for Darfur, especially when the troops necessary were not yet lined up.
The U.N.'s Lakhdar Brahimi wrote a report in 2000 on peacekeeping that said missions should be authorized in two parts. The Security Council would first approve a mission in principle, but it would need to reaffirm its approval once the troops and equipment needed had been lined up, thus avoiding the type of shortfall currently seen in Darfur.
Also, many observers are questioning the wisdom of sending in a U.N. force without a more credible agreement in place. The 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement was signed by only one rebel leader who has since joined the government, and does not involve any of the numerous rebel factions currently operating.
A research fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Sarah Kreps, says many countries have been reluctant to contribute troops or equipment without a credible peace agreement in place.
"The lack of forces certainly reflects a hesitancy on the part of possible troop contributing countries to send in troops to a place where there is no political solution or peace to enforce," she said. "These countries are eager to send in forces, but they want to do that if there is a peace to enforce."
Gueheno pointed out that the mission's slow start could damage the credibility of the force in the eyes of the Darfuri people it is trying to protect, credibility that could be hard to regain even if the mission reaches its intended 26,000-member strength.
Kreps warns that the mission's perceived ineffectiveness could also have broader ramifications for U.N. peacekeeping.
"So member states' enthusiasm for participating decreases because, why do they want to participate in a failed mission? And then what happens is this vicious cycle that the high visibility failure leads to disenchantment with collective action," she added. "And we saw this happen after Rwanda in 1994 and the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 where there was a decreased confidence in U.N. peacekeeping after these disasters."
But some observers, including Kreps, suggest that the situation for civilians in Darfur is better with the international intervention than without it.
"I think the sense on the part of the international community, and this is something that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said is that time is not on the side of the Darfurians," she explained. "It certainly would have been helpful had the political foundations been in place before sending in the force, but the pressure within the international community was such that it was probably untenable to wait until all those preconditions were met."
The challenges facing the peacekeeping mission are unlikely to let up soon. Many observers fear the government will retaliate for May's rebel attack on the capital. And following the International Criminal Court's recent announcement that it will step up efforts to prosecute Sudanese officials for crimes in Darfur, Sudanese government frustration with Western policy is rising.