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U.N.-AU Peacekeepers Face Challenges in Darfur

August 3, 2007 at 6:40 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Earlier this week, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to dispatch a peacekeeping force to the embattled Darfur region of Sudan. Its purpose: to put down fighting that has led to the deaths of 200,000 and the displacement of 2.5 million people in the past four years.

Some 26,000 international soldiers are supposed to make up the force, a combination of the 7,000 African Union troops already there as observers, and the rest to come from other nations. Why did Sudan agree to permit the U.N. force to be deployed? And what challenges face the peacekeepers?

For that, we turn to: Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Mohamad; and Ambassador Larry Rossin, a board member of the Save Darfur Coalition, an advocacy group. Ambassador Rossin is a former U.S. foreign service officer and U.N. official.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us. Ambassador Mohamad, to you first. Your government was against such a peacekeeping force for a long time. Why did you change your mind?

ABDALMAHMOOD MOHAMAD, U.N. Ambassador, Sudan: Our position has been misunderstood. In fact, we are not against the United States, because, after all, we are a member of this world body. And in Sudan, there is one of the largest U.N. force following the agreement of the CPA, comprehensive peace agreement. So, initially, we don’t have any difficulty with the U.N. We are a member of the U.N.

But in Darfur, the situation was different, because the Darfur agreement, which was negotiated by the African Union, did not provide for any involvement by the United Nations. This is why we were very adamant about the African nature of the force, African nature of the operation.

This took to Addis Abba, where, last year in November, we agreed on a three-phased approach involving peacekeeping, light support package, heavy support package, culminating into a hybrid, and also emphasis on the political process and the humanitarian situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me, I’m going to step in here. So what you’re saying is that your government wanted there to be a mix of African forces and other nations. Is your government now then committed to this peacekeeping force?

ABDALMAHMOOD MOHAMAD: We are very much committed. There is no backtracking at all. We have to stick very carefully to what we agreed upon. Terms of preferences are very clear. The African nature of the force is there; the role of the United Nations is there; the role of the international community in peacekeeping, in peace process, as well as in reconstruction and development is there.

The problem in the past came when people and the French forces in Sawili tried to backtrack from their commitments, not the Sudan government. And now we are happy that we are speaking the same language.

Commitment of Sudan's government

Larry Rossin
Save Darfur Coalition
I think it could take many months to get the full 19,000 troops and 7,000 police deployed. It's a difficult area. Camps have to be built; troops have to be recruited and trained.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, I'm going to turn now to Ambassador Rossin. From your perspective, do you see the Sudan government committed to see this through?

FORMER AMB. LARRY ROSSIN, Save Darfur Coalition: Well, it's refreshing to hear the ambassador say that because that hasn't been the pattern of behavior of the Sudanese government for a long time now. Even after the deal that led to this resolution was reached in June, President al-Bashir and officials of the Sudanese government were saying they didn't want a resolution with Chapter VII, they didn't want non-African troops in the peacekeeping force in any significant numbers. They didn't want U.N. command and control.

Now I think, having been put to the mat by the 15 members of the Security Council, I think the Sudanese government is changing its tune. And I think now what we need to look out for is the Sudanese government undercutting this mission, not directly, but by indirect measures and obstruction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What makes you fear that?

LARRY ROSSIN: The pattern of behavior that we've seen from Khartoum for four years now, obstruction, delay, reneging, redefining.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you assure Ambassador Rossin and others, Ambassador Mohamad, that that's not going to happen?

ABDALMAHMOOD MOHAMAD: No, rather, the backtracking has always come from our partners, not the Sudan government, because the African nature of the force should be there is not something new. The role of the United Nation, as far as (inaudible) and command-and-control structures, like what we agreed, is there also in the new resolution.

There is no -- also, the resolution eliminated many of the controversial issues. And the Chapter VII was confined only to one item from the entire resolution. And even that mandate to use force under Chapter VII was contained.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I just want to interrupt you again just to get to some of the specifics now about how long -- I want to ask you both quickly, how long do you think it will take to get this force deployed? Ambassador Rossin?

LARRY ROSSIN: Well, I think it could take many months to get the full 19,000 troops and 7,000 police deployed. It's a difficult area. Camps have to be built; troops have to be recruited and trained.

I think, on the other hand, it's entirely possible for this force to deploy in stages, as the troops are recruited, and I think it's possible to have some significant number of troops on the ground within three to four months maximum.

Getting troops into place

Abdalmahmood Mohamad
U.N. Ambassador, Sudan
[W]e want the timetable to be specified and the resolution be very much respected, but our experience with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as well as others, leaves a lot to be desired.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is it a challenge? I read that water, for example, is an issue, providing water for the troops.

LARRY ROSSIN: Darfur is an extremely arid area. It has very few roads. It doesn't have any already existing places where troops can live or where the mission can be set up and sustain themselves. Everything has to be imported. So that's going to be quite a challenge.

But, also, this is a very, very large peacekeeping force, and there are going to have to be troops recruited not only from African, but also from non-African countries to fill it out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How quickly, Ambassador Mohamad, do you believe the troops can be in place, some of them?

ABDALMAHMOOD MOHAMAD: Yes, this, in fact, yesterday, in Addis Ababa, there was a meeting organized by the African Union to solicit the participation of African countries. That is a very good start.

However, our experience with the United Nations leaves a lot to be desired. Because if you go to the light support package, then limitation percentages only 60 or 65 percent. The heavy support package, they did not even start.

Though the heavy support package is important to the entire operation, because this will put down infrastructure, like water, like generating water for the hybrid operation. So we want the timetable to be specified and the resolution be very much respected, but our experience with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as well as others, leaves a lot to be desired.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Rossin, what exactly will these peacekeepers have the authority to do, to intervene when, under what circumstances?

LARRY ROSSIN: They have the authority to use force as necessary under Chapter VII to protect themselves, to protect humanitarian aid workers, to protect implementation of the Darfur peace agreement, and also to protect civilians, as the paragraph 15 of the resolution is written. So they have a fairly broad mandate, if they choose to use it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean, if they choose to use it?

LARRY ROSSIN: Well, it's a question of political will. We have a document here that I think creates an adequate basis for a credible and effective peacekeeping and civilian protection operation in Darfur.

Now what's needed is that the United Nations, right from the representative on the ground, the force commander and the political representative to New York, and then the member states, the leaders of the member states in the Security Council, all agree that those tools that they've created should actually be used to protect the people of Darfur and end this genocide.

Meeting with the rebel movements

Larry Rossin
Save Darfur Coalition
[I]t's important to make progress on that political track of bringing about a peace negotiation between the government and all the different rebels movements in Darfur that can bring a durable end to the conflict.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Mohamad, very simple words, what does your government want to see these peacekeeping troops do?

ABDALMAHMOOD MOHAMAD: Exactly, this is a good question, because it is a peacekeeping operation. So if you don't have peace, there is nothing to keep over there. So what we would like to see is a rejuvenated peace process.

I'm happy, also, to report that today in Kazazanani and Arusha, there is a meeting for the rebel movements, the organizers of the CPA, and we wish really that this meeting culminates into a success, because there should be peace in the first place. This is a peacekeeping operation. So it goes there to keep the peace. So we hope that, before the finalization of the deadlines in the resolution, peace would establish itself very firmly there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Rossin?

LARRY ROSSIN: We also believe that it's important to make progress on that political track of bringing about a peace negotiation between the government and all the different rebels movements in Darfur that can bring a durable end to the conflict and deal with the underlying issues of the concentration of power in Khartoum and Khartoum's refusal to share power with the people of Darfur, share wealth with the people of Darfur.

The meetings that the ambassador referred to was a good, first step, but the government of Sudan, in due course, when it comes to negotiations, will have to show itself also very, very flexible in not setting preconditions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, Ambassador Mahmood, your government is prepared to see these peacekeeping troops use force when necessary to break up any sort of fighting they find in the Darfur region?

ABDALMAHMOOD MOHAMAD: No, the mandate is very clear. I don't want to interpret or reinterpret it. In Resolution 1590, establishing (inaudible) in south Sudan, it gave also the same right to use force to protect the personnel and the properties.

Here, the use of force also -- and the protection of civilians -- is also put within wider framework of the limitation of the security aspects of the Darfur peace agreement. That means they have to work also closely with the government, because the government is one of the main signatories of the CPA, and also, without breaking the responsibility of the government. That is very clear.

We did not say -- the resolution said it. And it took long negotiations, almost 40 days, to agree to this formulation, which I think is very practical.

Closer to real peace

Abdalmahmood Mohamad
U.N. Ambassador, Sudan
I'm optimistic that, with peace and the peace process rejuvenated, the work of the commander, as well as of the force, will be very easy, and I'm very hopeful and optimistic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You do think it's practical?

And, Ambassador Rossin, once this peacekeeping force is in place, how much closer will Sudan, will Darfur be to seeing real peace?

LARRY ROSSIN: Darfur will be closer to seeing real peace, provided that the United Nations and the member states use the tools that they've created in this resolution assertively to end the killing and to create space for a political process.

Most of the killing has been taking place at the hands of the Janjaweed militia in Darfur that's been created by the government of Sudan. They were supposed to be disarmed under the Darfur peace agreement. Therefore, stopping Janjaweed killing would be completely consistent with this resolution, and it would be the best thing that the U.N. force could do in Darfur.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that going to happen, Ambassador Mahmood?

ABDALMAHMOOD MOHAMAD: I am not the force commander, and I don't put the concept of operations, so I will not answer that. But the mandate is very clear there. I don't want to ask the commander what he should or should not do. This should not be done at all. I'm optimistic that, with peace and the peace process rejuvenated, the work of the commander, as well as of the force, will be very easy, and I'm very hopeful and optimistic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, we are going to leave it there. We thank you very much for joining us, Ambassador Mohamad joining us from New York, Ambassador Rossin here in Washington. Thank you both.

LARRY ROSSIN: Thank you, Judy.