Wednesday, April 23, 2008

UN warns Darfur war worsening, with perhaps 300,000 dead

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The conflict in Darfur is deteriorating, with full deployment of a new peacekeeping force delayed until 2009 and no prospect of a political settlement for a war that has killed perhaps 300,000 people in five years, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

In grim reports to the Security Council, the United Nations aid chief and the representative of the peacekeeping mission said suffering in the Sudanese region is worsening. Tens of thousands more have been uprooted from their homes and food rations to the needy are about to be cut in half, they said.

"We continue to see the goal posts receding, to the point where peace in Darfur seems further away today than ever," said John Holmes, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

The conflict began in early 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Sudan's Arab-dominated central government, accusing it of discrimination. Many of the worst atrocities in the war have been blamed on the janjaweed militia of Arab nomads allied with the government.

A joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force took over duties in Darfur in January from a beleaguered 7,000-man AU mission. But only about 9,000 soldiers and police officers of the authorized 26,000 have deployed.

"We are late and we are trying to speed up the deployment of this mission, and we facing many obstacles," said the U.N.-AU force's envoy, Rodolphe Adada. "But eventually, with the help of some donors, we could be in a position to achieve maybe 80 percent of the force by the end of this year."

The mission faces major problems in putting troops into a very hostile environment, Adada said. It still lacks five critical capabilities to become operational - attack helicopters, surveillance aircraft, transport helicopters, military engineers and logistical support.


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