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Latest News Last Updated: Dec 30, 2009 - 9:09:28 AM

Darfur situation remains 'volatile': UNAMID chief

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Darfur situation remains 'volatile': UNAMID chief

KHARTOUM Darfur remains volatile despite improvements, with the causes of its six-year conflict still at play, the commander of UN-African Union peacekeepers in the western Sudanese region said Tuesday.

"Of course the security situation is better than it was two or three years ago, in terms of clashes between factions," Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba, head of the UNAMID force since September, told AFP in an interview.

"But the absence of armed clashes between the government and a number of groups does not mean there is prevalent security.

"Now we have other forms of insecurity. We have kidnappings, we have carjackings, we have robbery, we have tribal clashes, so the situation, much as it has improved, still remains volatile," said Nyamvumba.

"There's absolutely no guarantee that the situation will not get worse, because the factors that caused the conflict, as far as I'm concerned, still exist."

UNAMID has been a target of several attacks this year. Five peacekeepers with the force were killed within two days in December. In August, two of its civilian staff were kidnapped and kept in captivity for 107 days.

The conflict that erupted in 2003 initially pitted two separatist rebel groups against the Khartoum government aided by local Arab militias, but it has since proliferated.

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died from the combined effects of war, famine and disease, and that another 2.7 million have fled their homes.

The government puts the Darfur death toll at 10,000 people.

Nyamvumba said "the focus should be more on getting a political process" moving, and on attempts to get the different factions back to the negotiating table, "which seems to be the biggest challenge now."

"There's a lot of work to be done to bring normalcy to Darfur," added Nyamvumba, who was formerly chief of logistics of the Rwandan Defence Forces.

His predecessor Martin Luther Agwai said Darfur was no longer a theatre of war but more of a "low-intensity conflict," echoing controversial remarks by the former head of the mission Rodolphe Adada.

Nyamvumba said broadening the peace process would faciliate UNAMID's job.

A Darfur peace agreement was signed in May 2006 between Khartoum and only one Darfur rebel movement.

"We have so many players in the context of Darfur... so it becomes difficult for us to engage those outside of the political process, to make them accountable," he said.

"If you get obstructions from them in the execution of your mandate, you really don't have anything to hold them accountable to, that makes it difficult to execute our mandate," he continued.

Another obstacle is the lack of equipment, particularly military helicopters.

Two years after its deployment, the peacekeeping force is still missing crucial helicopters needed in case of attack and for night patrols in the arid Darfur region where "in some areas, 70 kilometres (43 miles) can take three, four hours to cover."

"We're expecting five helicopters from Ethiopia, we'll probably have them next month. But it's still far below what we expect," he said, adding the force needs a minimum of 18 helicopters.

Today, 77 percent of the 19,500 military personnel has been deployed and Nyamvumba said he hopes this figure will increase to 85 percent by March. Sixty percent of the police force is on the ground.

UNAMID is the UN's largest mission, with 26,000 troops and police officers expected when full deployment is complete.

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