Situation in Darfur stabilising - New UNAMID Force Commander Rwandan Lt Gen Nyamvumba
Photo: Lt Gen Nyamvumba's tour of duty will be from 1 September 2009 for a period of one year. Three generals competed for the post in an interview that was conducted in New York on 5 May 2009. (MOD, Rwanda)
From AFP by Gerard Aziakou, 06 August 2009:
Situation in Darfur stabilizing: outgoing UN-AU force chief
UNITED NATIONS — The situation in Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region is stabilizing with UN-African Union peacekeepers able to provide improved security but still in need of crucial air mobility, their outgoing commander said here Thursday.
"We have been able to stabilize the situation in Darfur. But there are still a lot of challenges," said General Martin Luther Agwai of Nigeria, who is stepping down as commander of the joint UN-AU force (UNAMID) at the end of the month.
He told a press conference that more and more Darfurians were venturing out of internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps to cultivate their lands in their villages and some were even voluntarily returning to their homes.
"That means there's more security," he noted, while conceding that UNAMID's current strength did not allow it to provide security to all the IDPs camps.
Only the bigger camps housing up to 100,000 people had 24/7 security, said Agwai, adding that the situation should improve when an estimated 92 percent of the force's mandated strength of 26,000 is expected to be deployed by the end of the year.
Agwai, a former Nigerian armed forces chief of staff, noted that there were now 100 to 150 deaths a month in Darfur, down from hundreds or thousands in the past. The number of rape and assault cases has also dropped, he added.
But he made it clear that UNAMID still faced major challenges, chief among the lack of transport helicopters to provide crucial air mobility in the vast, arid territory.
He said that while five attack helicopters provided by Ethiopia would soon be deployed in Darfur, "nobody in the world has pledged" any of the 18 transport helicopters which UN chief Ban Ki-moon has requested.
"They are a real necessity," he pleaded.
He also cited the stalled peace process between Khartoum and the fragmented Darfur insurgency as another major impediment.
But Agwai welcomed warming ties between Washington and Khartoum, including the role played by US special envoy for Sudan Scott Gration, whose conciliatory comments were likely to encourage Khartoum to be more cooperative.
"The US has a big role to play in peace in Darfur," Agwai said.
Khartoum has welcomed a statement by Gration, President Barack Obama's hand-picked Sudan troubleshooter, that there was "no evidence" to support keeping it on a US terrorism blacklist that triggers punishing economic sanctions.
Gration, a retired general, said such measures, aimed at punishing the Khartoum government, were "actually hurting the very development" needed to keep a fragile peace in Sudan and give hope to people driven from their homes.
The soft-spoken Agwai, who was appointed UNAMID force commander in May 2007 is to be succeeded by Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba, currently chief of logistics of the Rwandan Defense Forces.
On July 30, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to keep the joint UN-African Union force (UNAMID) in Darfur region for another year until July 31 2010 to ensure the protection of civilians an densure "safe, timely and unhindered humanitarian access."
It adopted a resolution calling on the government and rebels in Darfur to remove all obstacles to the UNAMID mission, and explicitly demanding that the Sudanese government provide visas and flight clearances for UNAMID personnel.