U.N. Peacekeepers Prepare for Darfur Deployment

The United Nations is trying to put together its biggest operation in the world — a protection force for Darfur, Sudan. The U.N. peacekeeping office plans to work with African Union troops already on the ground. But it's clear that a much more mobile force is needed to protect millions of people at risk there.

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The United Nations is trying to put together its biggest operation in the world - a protection force for Darfur, Sudan. The U.N. peacekeeping office, led by Jane Holl Lute, is to work with African Union troops already on the ground. But already it's clear that a much more mobile force is needed to protect millions of people at risk in Darfur.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When Jane Holl Lute sends her report to the Security Council this week, she's likely to tell member states that she's getting plenty of pledges for infantry battalions, but she still needs engineers, helicopters and communications equipment, the kind of things that rich nations can offer.

Ms. JANE HOLL LUTE (Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations): This is a remote area of the world. It's very hard to get to by air or over ground. This is a population that has been under extremely difficult conditions for an extremely long period of time and the world may have something to prove.

KELEMEN: She briefed U.S. officials in Washington last week on her preparations. The U.S. has helped fund the African Union troops already in Darfur and is expanding some of their bases to get ready for the larger operation. Officials here say they can only offer logistical support once they know exactly what's needed.

But Gayle Smith of the Center for American Progress thinks the U.S. needs to play a more active role in making this force a reality.

Ms. GAYLE SMITH (Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress): Because the U.N. right now has over 100,000 troops deployed around the world. This will be its largest peacekeeping mission. And they've got quite a lot on their plate, and they're only as successful as their members enable them to be.

KELEMEN: Joel Charny of Refugees International agrees and says, so far, rich nations haven't stepped up with the sort of equipment and logistical support that the mainly African troops will need.

Mr. JOEL CHARNY (Vice President of Policy, Refugees International): There's a disconnect between the political rhetoric when needed, you know, evoking genocide in Darfur and the need to do something, and the actual capacity and political will to deliver what's needed in good time in Darfur itself.

KELEMEN: Charny says that unless the U.N./A.U. hybrid force can establish a powerful presence in Darfur, it could become a target with so many rebel groups, militias and bandits on the lose. The U.N.'s Assistant Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations Jane Holl Lute says U.N. military planners are trying to avoid that.

Mr. LUTE: There are no (unintelligible) guarantees. There could be misguided militias on the ground that think this is a force to engage. It will not be a force to engage. This will be a force that it will be more than four-times the current force there on the ground right now. The rules of engagement are quite serious and quite robust.

KELEMEN: Sudan initially rejected U.N. peacekeepers, saying they would be viewed as colonizers, but eventually came around to this idea of a joint U.N.-African Union force, which Lute says will be a first.

Ms. LUTE: We've never done this before. This will be an operation that will be unprecedented in its financial size. We estimate well over $2 billion once the force is fully deployed and fully operational for a year.

KELEMEN: Among her many challenges is how to get enough water to peacekeepers without exacerbating that problem in Darfur. Lute also says she'll make sure peacekeepers have the proper training in the code of conduct because U.N. peacekeepers in other countries have been involved in sex scandals.

Ms. LUTE: We've adopted a policy of zero tolerance. People say, well, you know, we don't know what that means. We know what that means. What it means is zero complacency and zero impunity.

KELEMEN: Expectations are running high as to what this force will be able to do. Lute says it will be there to protect civilians and humanitarian workers, and create a security environment that will support a peace process, which she says is at the center of any successful peacekeeping operation. She's updating the Security Council on Thursday on how quickly the force will move into place.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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Correction Aug. 28, 2007

An earlier version of this summary incorrectly identified Jane Holl Lute as the head of the U.N. Peacekeeping Office. She is a top official in the office, but is not in charge of it. The error remains in the audio version of this story.

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