UN council extends mandate of Darfur peacekeepers

The UN Security Council last week unanimously extended the mandate for the joint UN-AU peacekeeping mission which has been slowly deploying in Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region.
The force’s mandate has been extended until the end of July 2010, Reuters reports.
“There is still serious concern about the security situation on the ground and the rather slow progress in the political track,” British UN Ambassador John Sawers told reporters after the 15-nation council passed a resolution on the peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID.
Sawers said there have been some encouraging developments in Darfur. He welcomed the improved cooperation between the UN secretariat and Khartoum in deploying UNAMID, which is currently at just over two-thirds of its planned strength of 26 000 troops and police.
UNAMID has been gradually deploying for the past 18 months, held up by shortages of troops and equipment, harsh conditions in Darfur and bureaucratic obstacles in Khartoum.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report he issued earlier this month that UNAMID was due to reach more than 90 % of its full complement by the end of 2009.
Ban’s report appeared to counter predictions that the issuing of an arrest warrant in March by the International Criminal Court for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur could make life worse for the peacekeepers.
The AU, Arab League and other organizations have urged the Security Council to use its power to suspend the proceedings against Bashir to avoid undermining the fragile peace process in Darfur. The council has such authority under Article 16 of the treaty that established the Hague-based ICC.
“There is no consensus on the council about Article 16,” Sawers told reporters, adding that the AU had yet to formally propose an Article 16 deferment.
The US, Britain and have been reluctant to intervene in the case against Bashir, while both China and Russia have expressed support for the AU position.
The conflict in Darfur dates back to 2003, when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Khartoum, accusing it of neglecting the region. The government mobilized troops and mostly Arab militias to crush the uprising.
Estimates of the death count in Darfur range from 10 000 according to Khartoum, to as high as 300 000 according to UN humanitarian chief John Holmes.
The United Nations says that some 4.7 million people in Darfur are dependent on aid while banditry and sexual violence continue to plague the region.

Pic: SA soliders in Darfur