Sudan: Darfur peacekeepers offer no protection - IDPs

News and Press Release
Originally published
DALI, 20 October 2008 (IRIN) - It is an ordinary morning at the water pump in Dali town, North Darfur. Children splash around in the water; women argue over whose turn is next. An armoured personnel carrier makes its way through the sand, six other UN vehicles following closely behind.

The convoy stops in this quiet clearing. Armed peacekeeping troops pour out of their trucks, forming a large circle around the water pump. Unarmed military and police approach the locals.

"What is the situation here? Any incidents in the last week?" Nepalese Maj. Prem Thapa, a military observer with the African Union/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), asks one villager through a translator.

"The situation is good these days, no problem," Adam Ahmad answers. "But we need more food and water."

Ahmad tells them government police have been harassing villagers who try to go to their farms. The peacekeepers take down his name and note his comments. Fifteen minutes after they arrive, the patrol moves on.

"When we stay a long time, they request a lot of things that we can't give them," Thapa explains. "We just get information and we send [it] to our headquarters."

The UNAMID troops are friendly, even helping with water pumping, but locals say they have nothing to offer them - not even security.

"These peacekeepers have been here for three or four years. Since they entered our country, they have not helped us in any way," cattle-herder Suleiman Basha told the patrol at its next stop at the Argo camp for displaced people. "They can't stop the government or those who attack us. They are just there. Today, they come take information. Tomorrow, more information. It's too much talk."

Thapa tries to explain that UNAMID is doing its best within its limited numbers. With more troops, he tells Basha, the mission's impact will likely increase.

"I don't believe your promises because you promised before. UNAMID and [its predecessor the African Union Mission in Sudan] AMIS promised us a lot, but nothing happened. Nothing changed. Now we are suffering a lot."

"Our mandate is clear"

Darfur's displaced population has long complained that UNAMID offers no protection. When asked about the force one displaced man broke out in laughter, saying: "Even UNAMID is scared."

Hamstrung by insufficient troops and a lack of essential military helicopters, it is often limited by the very insecurity it is supposed to prevent. Patrols are suspended when tensions flare and villagers say peacekeepers stand and watch as attacks take place.

In May, when government police attacked the town of Tawila in North Darfur and its camp for the displaced - burning houses, looting the market and beating people - UNAMID did not intervene militarily, opting instead to try to pressure the government's police commander to stop the attacks.

"Our mandate is clear," says Rwandan Maj. Epimaque Kayitare, company commander at the UNAMID base in Tawila. "First we negotiate...If negotiations are failing, you can use other means.

"We have never fired a shot," he goes on. "For us, our main weapon is to negotiate. We are like a mediator. If we get involved in the conflict, it can become very big."

But for many displaced, who pinned their hopes on UNAMID to protect them from the looting, rape and killing to which they continue to be subjected five years after Darfur's conflict flared up, negotiation is not enough.

In late August, UNAMID was unable to prevent the death of at least 31 civilians after government troops opened fire in Kalma camp for displaced people, near Nyala in South Darfur.

The numbers

UNAMID is currently 13,000-strong. Of that number, 7,200 are armed soldiers, and there are only three armed police units (see box). The rest are administrators, engineers, logisticians, staff officers and unarmed police and military observers.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently said the mission aims to reach 65 percent deployment by the end of 2008, and 85 percent by March 2009. But even at a full deployment of 26,000, only 14,400 will be infantry, according to Hocine Medili, the mission's deputy joint special representative for operations and management.

"Our [Formed Police Units] - once fully deployed - will be able to provide much more security to those camps, organise wood gathering patrols and ensure that these incidents are not taking place. But for the moment, this is far beyond the capacity of UNAMID," Medili told IRIN.

Such capacity depends on having the right vehicles and equipment, which are often damaged on the long road from Port Sudan in the east. And when they do arrive in Darfur they need protection, further tying up UNAMID's precious human resources.

While acknowledging the force's limitations, Medili suggested the widespread disappointment with UNAMID was based on a misconception.

"It is true that events did happen and we were helpless to stop them," Medili says. "[But] there is a misunderstanding what is exactly the role of UNAMID...There is an expectation that UNAMID will engage militarily any group whose activities are in the camp or against the civilian population in the camp.

"But engaging the government in a military confrontation has no sense... We are not here to confront militarily the government of Sudan. We are here to engage the parties in the peace process."


Since the attack on Kalma, UNAMID has had a permanent presence in the camp and has set up the Darfur Integrated Task Force to deal with security concerns. Newly-arrived Indonesian and Nepalese police units are expected to add to its capacity to conduct patrols.

Still, many question whether UNAMID will ever be able to have an impact.

"I don't think, even if they reach 100 percent deployment, that it will get better. It will get messier," says one aid worker.

The peace agreement between the government and the most powerful rebel group, signed in 2006, remains very fragile.

"What is UNAMID doing here? What peace is it keeping? The Darfur Peace Agreement [DPA] is a joke," the aid worker told IRIN on condition of anonymity.

"UNAMID is trying to save the DPA because it is the only reason to be here. [But] it's death-bound."