Sudan: 3,600 more UN peacekeepers in Darfur this year - US

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By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 28 (Reuters) - The United Nations expects that 3,600 more peacekeepers will be deployed in Sudan's war-ravaged western Darfur region by the end of the year, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan said on Tuesday.

The United States has complained for months about the slow deployment of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID, which has a mandate for 26,000 troops and police. It is currently at around 40 percent of that level.

"We're encouraged that we should have at least 3,600 more UNAMID troops in Darfur by the end of this year, and we feel that (a U.N.) estimate that there should be 80 percent deployment by next March is encouraging and appropriate," U.S. special envoy Richard Williamson told Reuters.

He said the new target for the end of the year, which is more ambitious than one announced by the new U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy last month, came from the new U.N. under-secretary-general for field support, Susana Malcorra.

As of Oct. 10, there were 10,527 UNAMID peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur. If the U.N. expectations are met, there will be more than 14,000 UNAMID peacekeepers in Darfur by Dec. 31, well over half of the planned full deployment.

The U.N. Security Council meets later on Tuesday to discuss Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's new report on UNAMID, in which he says up to 300,000 people have been forced to flee violence in Darfur this year as the conflict shows no sign of abating.

Ban also said the humanitarian situation in Darfur was desperate, while aid workers and peacekeepers found themselves increasingly at risk from attack.

Williamson said a previous U.N. target of achieving 80 percent of full UNAMID deployment by the end of this year was probably unrealistic from the start.

"There was an overestimate of what was feasible," he said, adding that the new U.N. target was "doable".

Washington has accused the government of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of slowing UNAMID's arrival by putting unreasonable conditions on their deployment. He has also accused the U.N. secretariat of dragging its heels.

U.N. peacekeeping officials have rejected suggestions that they have been moving slowly with the deployment of UNAMID, which was created in July 2007. They say that the troop-contributing countries have failed to come up with badly needed military hardware like helicopters.

Williamson said Washington was discussing with the peacekeeping department ways that it could provide assistance, such as with the airlifting of troops and containers.

U.N. officials say that as many as 300,000 people have died and some 2.5 million fled their homes since violence broke out in Darfur in 2003, when mostly African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government.

The Sudanese government says 10,000 have died.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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