13 Jul 2009

Darfur peacekeepers still waiting for helicopters - UN

1:38 pm on 13 July 2009

Peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur region are still struggling to get hold of helicopters more than 18 months after arriving in the country, because of competition from other conflict zones, a senior UN official says.

The joint United Nations/African Union UNAMID force currently has no military helicopters, despite high-profile appeals for countries to provide them, said Susana Malcorra, head of field support for the UN.

Ms Malcorra added the shortage was hitting the force's ability to react to security incidents in the territory, which is about the size of Spain.

She said UNAMID needed 24 military helicopters across Darfur but so far had only received promises of five from neighbouring Ethiopia, due to be delivered in October.

UNAMID, which took over from an AU force in January 2008, was supposed to have 26,000 soldiers and police.

The UN originally hoped to get 80% of the force on the ground by the end of its first year. But the deployment has been hampered by hold-ups, which commentators blamed both on obstruction from Khartoum and UN bureaucracy.

Ms Malcorra told reporters she was now hoping to get 90% to 95% of the force deployed before the end of 2009.

Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan's government in 2003, accusing it of marginalising the region and neglecting its development. Khartoum mobilised troops and mostly Arab militias to crush the uprising.

Estimates of the death count in Darfur range from 10,000 according to Khartoum, to 300,000 according to UN humanitarian chief John Holmes.