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For Darfur Force, No Western Copter Pilots, Mauritania's Offer Deemed Late, Sudan Says

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, October 9 -- Several problems with the hybrid UN - African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur emerged on Tuesday. Sudan's Ambassador to the UN told Inner City Press, "Of course we won't accept any pilots from Western countries." This came a day after the head of the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), Jean-Marie Guehenno, told reporters that the UN is having difficulties getting commitments for helicopters, and said that few countries will give such aircraft while allowing other countries' nationals to pilot them. It's a standoff, then -- because Sudanese Amb. Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad said without equivocation, no pilots from Western countries, while Sudan would have no problem accepting Western equipment. He added that Mauritania wants to contribute troops to the hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, but that DPKO has told Mauritania that they have not met the deadline. "Mr. Guehenno's behavior raises many questions," he said.

            The reality is that it is easier to get answers from Sudan's representatives to the UN than from the UN's DPKO. Written requests for information sent to DPKO are not responded to. By contrast, Sudan's Ambassador on Tuesday was chairing the General Assembly's Fourth Committee, a hearing on Western Sahara, and stopped to answer Inner City Press' questions at the hearing's conclusion.

            At Monday's DPKO press conference, Inner City Press twice asked Mr. Guehenno how many Egyptian troops are being accepted for the Darfur hybrid force. "A significant number," he answered, then, "Less than three thousand." Sudan's Ambassador on Tuesday said the Egypt offered 3,200 soldiers, and is yet to be satisfied with DPKO's response.

            A former DPKO officer interviewed by Inner City Press on Tuesday, Major-General Patrick Cammaert, until last February the UN's force commander in Eastern Congo, said that Sudan "won't allow night flying... So then many countries won't contribute troops, because they won't be able to extract their wounded."

UN helicopter in Sudan, Western copters with non-Western pilots not shown

            [Inner City Press asked Major-General Cammaert about the allegations that some UN peacekeepers traded in gold and gun in Eastern Congo. "I never saw a report that proved that any of the continents traded gold for weapons," he answered, very lawyerly. It has been reported that the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services found evidence of enabling of gold trading. Major-General Cammaert said that "it's possible that out of 15,000 troops... one or two bought a jewel." But the OIOS finding, reported by BBC, involves the use of UN airstrips for gold traders to visit rebels and make large scale purchases.]

            Meanwhile, it emerged from a closed-door meeting Tuesday of the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that the Darfur hybrid force item has only begun to be discussed, and it will be twelve to fourteen days before ACABQ's report is provided to the UN's Fifth Committee, which deals with funding. Nothing is as fast as is presented. But at least there should be answers.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540