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In Darfur, UN Will Have Barely 9000 Troops at Hand-Over, Of Drills and Copter Mystery

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 19 -- There will be only nine thousand peacekeepers in Darfur at the beginning of 2008, along with 140 Chinese engineers whose drills to search for water will still be en route, by ship, from China. As the handoff of Darfur peacekeeping to the United Nations hybrid force with the African Union approaches, a memo from the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations to the Security Council, obtained by Inner City Press, shows that at year's end the peacekeeping force will consider of four battalions each from Nigeria and Rwanda, one from South Africa and one from Senegal. Some time in the first two months of 2008, battalions from Egypt and Ethiopia are slated to deploy. Click here to view the UN memo, which was addressed to Italian Ambassador Marcello Spatafora, December's president of the Security Council. Gambia will be reducing its force from 200 to 90. Also listed in the memo are police unit from Bangladesh and Nepal, and engineers from Pakistan.

            About the listed 140 Chinese engineers, Inner City Press on Wednesday asked China's Deputy Permanent Representative Liu Zhenmin to confirm a source's account that the needed drills to search for water in Darfur will not be sent by air, but rather by boat.  Ambassador Liu said that is true, the equipment is headed to Port Sudan and discussions are underway how to get it to Darfur. It is said that the cost of large Antonov cargo planes was deemed too expensive.

            Another air transportation controversy concerns the UN's lack of helicopters for Darfur. The UN has loudly complained that no country has offered helicopters. Well-placed sources have told Inner City Press that the UN in fact has 21 helicopters in Sudan, but cannot move them to Darfur, allegedly because this would violate some of Sudan's rules. Inner City Press asked about this at Wednesday's noon briefing, and spokesperson Michele Montas said "it's not just a question of finding helicopters, itís finding helicopters suitable for the Darfur area, in terms of dust and in terms of sandstorms and things of that sort.  But I'll direct your questions to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations," DPKO.

            In fact, Edmond Mulet the deputy chief of DPKO had taken questions at the Security Council stakeout on December 13. When Inner City Press asked for a comment on questions raised in the Fifth (budget) Committee about the UN's $250 million no-bid contract for Darfur infrastructure with military contractor Lockheed Martin, Mr. Mulet said, "I can't discuss that, you have to asked the Department of Field Support." Video here.

Lone peacekeeper in El Fasher, helicopters not shown

    On Wednesday the UN produced a person, who insisted on being called "a senior UN official," to generally address charges of procurement irregularities. This person repeatedly said that he could not defend or explain the UN's contracts with Lockheed Martin's Pacific Architects & Engineers (PAE) unit, but that he would ask his boss, Jane Holl Lute of the Department of Field Support, to come and give a briefing. "We are completely transparent," said the official. Inner City Press asked if DFS would make available at least part of its response to questions raised in the Fifth Committee about the PAE contract. "It's not in our province to give it out," the official said. "They own the information now."

            But a check with delegates to the Fifth Committee on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. found that they still did not have relevant information about the sole source contracts. "That's the main sticking point," one delegate told Inner City Press, before heading back down to the meetings in the UN's basement about the budget. By 11 p.m., the delegate said that the Darfur budget had been agreed to, after three main countries sat and changed nine paragraphs, compromising on how strenuously to criticize the no-bid Lockheed contract. Many delegates were cut out of the process. Only at the UN. Click here for more on the budget process, and watch this site.

* * *

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

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

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