Darfur peacekeepers still waiting for helicopters: UN

Peacekeepers in Sudan’s Darfur region are still struggling to get hold of vital helicopters more than 18 months after arriving because of competition from other conflict zones, a senior UN official said yesterday.
The joint United Nations/African Union UNAMID force currently has no military helicopters, despite high-profile appeals for countries to provide them, Susana Malcorra, head of field support for the UN said, Reuters reports.
The shortage was hitting the force’s ability to react to security incidents in the remote western territory, which is about the size of Spain, she added.
“There is a demand and supply problem here and we are competing with international deployments. Afghanistan is a place that has absorbed a lot of helicopters,”
Malcorra told reporters after a UNAMID coordination meeting with theAU and Sudan’s government in Khartoum.
“The need for these helicopters was stated during the initial planning of the UNAMID mission. The secretary general has been raising this over and over again.”
Malcorra said UNAMID needed 24 military helicopters across Darfur but so far had only received promises of five from neighbouring Ethiopia, due to be delivered in October.
She said the international community had shown its commitment to the force by supplying troops and training, but it was struggling to provide aircraft amid a global shortage of military helicopters.
UNAMID, which took over from an AU force in January 2008, was supposed to have 26 000 soldiers and police.
The UN originally hoped to get 80 % of the force on the ground by the end of its first year.
But the deployment has been hampered by hold-ups, which commentators blamed both on obstruction from Khartoum and UN bureaucracy.
Malcorra told reporters she was now hoping to get 90-95 % of the force deployed before the end of 2009.
Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government in 2003, accusing it of marginalising the region and neglecting its development. Khartoum mobilised troops and mostly Arab militias to crush the uprising.
Estimates of the death count in Darfur range from 10 000 according to Khartoum, to 300 000 according to UN humanitarian chief John Holmes.