Monday, February 11, 2008

Sudan News Bulletin: Offensive Against JEM; UN Project Watseful; Relations With Chad

Attacks pushing Darfur refugees into Chad, UN says

By Lydia Polgreen
Monday, February 11, 2008

DAKAR, Senegal--Thousands of refugees fleeing attacks by popular militias and Sudanese Army bombs in the ravaged western region of Darfur have flooded into neighboring Chad, the United Nations said Sunday, and many more may be on their way as Sudan strikes back at a rebel offensive in the area.

The attacks throw a region sundered by conflict into still deeper chaos as a volatile mix of rebels, government forces and ethnic militias jockey to control a vast and unforgiving stretch of semidesert that straddles the two troubled countries. Just a week ago, Chadian rebels based in Sudan tried to topple Chad's government, making it all the way to the gates of the presidential palace in Ndjamena before being beaten back.

Making matters worse, the rebel group that had controlled the part of Darfur under attack, the Justice and Equality Movement, warned the new United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force not to enter the area. The rebels said that the area was an active war zone and that any armed group, including peacekeepers, would be considered hostile and fair game.

"There is no cease-fire, the war is going on," said Suleiman Sandal Haggar, a senior commander with the rebel group, in an interview via satellite phone. "In this situation it is very difficult to talk about peacekeeping when there is no peace to keep."

About 6,000 Sudanese reached the border town of Birak in Chad, said Helen Caux, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, and a roughly equal number gathered in a nearby village. The first wave consisted mainly of men. An unknown number of women and children, for whom the voyage on foot is much slower and more deadly, followed, the refugees told the United Nations.

"They are destitute and terrified," Caux said.

The new arrivals will join the 240,000 Sudanese refugees already in Chad, and a nearly equal number of Chadians who have been displaced by chaos along the border. The influx pushes the number of people in eastern Chad dependent on an already overstretched aid operation toward half a million.

The refugees told United Nations officials of a terrifying assault by Arab militiamen, who arrived on horseback and in trucks, descending on the towns of Sirba, Suleia and Abu Surouj, north of the provincial capital, Geneina, near the border with Chad.

The attacks were apparently an attempt by the Sudanese government to check the advance of the Justice and Equality Movement, which has been gathering strength recently. Once the smallest of the Darfur rebel groups, it has been growing in size and influence, in large part because of its high-level clan links to Chad's president, Idriss Déby, who is its patron and ally.

The new fighting will further complicate the long-awaited deployment of a United Nations and African Union joint peacekeeping force in Darfur. It officially began its work on Dec. 31, but has been plagued by logistical problems and stonewalling by the Sudanese government.

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council last week after a visit to the region, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the top United Nations peacekeeping official, warned that "what we are witnessing is actually a war with offensive, counteroffensive fighting."

Jan Eliasson, the United Nations mediator in the region, told the Security Council that "over the last few months, the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur and the region has dramatically deteriorated."

The morass of conflict engulfing the region has become more complex and difficult to control since it first grabbed the world's attention in 2003, when the Arab-dominated government of Sudan unleashed tribal militias known as the janjaweed on non-Arab rebel groups in Darfur. The rebels were seeking greater autonomy and a larger share of Sudan's wealth.

The government-allied militias carried out a brutal counterinsurgency that President George W. Bush and others said was genocide. At least 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur, according to published mortality surveys, and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.

The Sudanese government has denied that accusation and has said the death toll has been exaggerated.

Since then, the violence has ricocheted into Chad, where ethnic and political tensions mirror those of Darfur. Some of the rebel groups have close ties to Déby and are allowed to operate freely in Chad. Sudan has retaliated by helping Chadian rebels trying to topple Déby, according to analysts and diplomats.

Meanwhile, within Sudan, the Darfur rebel groups have splintered and fought among themselves. Some of the Arab militias loyal to the government have also switched sides in the fight more than once.

One result has been a free-for-all that looks less like the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, to which the Darfur conflict has often been compared, and more like a grim combination of the cross-border war that engulfed Congo and its neighbors in the wake of Rwanda's agony and the warlord-ruled chaos of Somalia.

Chadian rebels, meanwhile, said Sunday that they were on the offensive once again, after being routed by government troops and forced to retreat from the capital, Ndjamena.

In a statement posted on a rebel-linked Web site, Ali Ordjo Hemchi, a spokesman for the alliance of three rebel groups seeking to overthrow President Déby, said that the group had taken control of the crossroads town of Am Timan, and seized a cache of weapons and dozens of vehicles.

Sudan signs operating rules for UN-AU Darfur force

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan has agreed to give the U.N.-African Union Darfur peacekeeping force freedom of movement and of communications, removing major barriers to deployment of the 26,000-strong force, a mission official said on Saturday.

"This is a very important milestone on the way of UNAMID," the political head of the joint mission, Rodolphe Adada, said after he and Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor signed an accord outlining the mission's operating rules.

The two sides spent many weeks negotiating the final draft of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and reached a deal only after intervention by U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon.

The force will try to bring peace to the western region, in which international experts estimate some 200,000 have died and 2.5 million been driven from their homes in fighting since early 2003, when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms, accusing the government of neglect.

Khartoum says 9,000 have died and accuses the West of exaggerating the scale of the conflict and the casualties.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean Marie Guehenno had said conditions originally set by Sudan, including disabling the force's communications during security operations, had threatened the viability of the mission.

"UNAMID shall enjoy... the right to unrestricted communication by radio ... telephone, electronic mail, fascimile or any other means," read the text of the agreement obtained by Reuters on Saturday.

Only 9,000 of the 26,000 troops and police required have so far been deployed to Darfur. Ethiopia has pledged five of some 24 attack and transport helicopters needed by the mission, but other member states have been reluctant to provide equipment.

Sudan's United Nations ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, said at the signing ceremony there would be no curfew on the force in Darfur. "The document resolved all the differences," he told reporters.

"UNAMID...shall enjoy full and unrestricted freedom of movement without delay throughout Darfur," the accord read.

Sudan had earlier insisted on a ban on night flights by the mission. The force's predecessor, a smaller African Union force, had been subject to a curfew in Darfur's main town and its headquarters, el-Fasher.

Doubts over the composition of the force remain. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has said he will not accept non-African troops. Scandinavian engineering units withdrew their pledge to the mission after Khartoum refused to accept them, and Thai and Nepalese contingents are under debate.

Alor appeared to depart from this position on Saturday when he said Sudan would agree to non-African troops in UNAMID -- the largest U.N.-funded peacekeeping operation.

"We have started deploying the African forces and we are committed to deploying non-African forces as we go along in consultation with UNAMID," he told reporters. "That does not exclude forces from outside the continent," he added.

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for a junior Sudanese government minister and an allied militia leader accused of conspiring in war crimes in Darfur. Khartoum refuses to hand them over.

News Article by WP posted on February 10, 2008 at 00:45:37: EST (-5 GMT)

Audit of U.N.'s Sudan Mission Finds Tens of Millions in Waste

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post
February 10, 2008

UNITED NATIONS (Washington Post) -- The United Nations has wasted tens of millions of dollars in its peacekeeping operations in Sudan over the past three years, according to the findings of U.N. auditors examining the financial practices of the global body's overseas missions.

U.N. officers in Sudan have squandered millions by renting warehouses that were never used, booking blocks of hotel rooms that were never filled, and losing thousands of food rations to theft and spoilage, according to several internal audits by the U.N. Office for International Oversight Services. One U.N. purchasing agent has been accused of steering a $589,000 contract for airport runway lights to a company that helped his wife obtain a student visa, while two senior procurement officials from the United States and New Zealand have been charged by a U.N. panel with misconduct for not complying with rules designed to prevent corruption.

The U.N. procurement division "did not have the necessary capacity and expertise to handle the large magnitude of procurement actions" in Sudan, particularly during the early phases of the mission, according to a confidential October 2006 audit obtained by The Washington Post. Investigators also detected "a number of potential fraud indicators and cases of mismanagement and waste."

The internal United Nations audits provide a rare glimpse into the messy business of assembling a massive multinational expeditionary force in a war-torn nation. They also highlight the Bush administration's struggles to make progress on its top Africa initiative: ending a decades-long civil war between Sudan's Islamic government and southern rebels, and halting the mass killing of civilians in the country's southern region of Darfur.

U.N. peacekeeping officials maintain that the auditors' allegations are overblown, and that they neglect the difficulties of launching a major operation in a nation with few roads and a government hostile to foreigners. "This is seen as a witch hunt that is not warranted given the fluidity and complexity of that mission," said one U.N. official who served in Sudan, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigations.

A U.N. task force is examining the United Nations' handling of nearly $300 million in contracts for food, transportation and fuel for Sudan, including a $200 million contract with Eurest Support Services, a Cyprus-based subsidiary of the Compass Group, a British catering company. ESS also has been charged with rigging bids in Liberia, Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

There is no excuse for having poor internal control mechanisms and for tolerating mismanagement," Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the undersecretary general of the oversight office, told reporters last month. "We are handling public money and considerable funds and should care about that as if it were our own money."

The Security Council established the U.N. mission in Sudan in March 2005, sending more than 10,000 peacekeepers to oversee a settlement ending a bloody, 22-year civil war that left more then 2 million dead in southern Sudan. The council has since authorized an African Union-United Nations mission to halt the killing of civilians in Darfur, a force that is expected to reach 26,000 troops by the end of 2008.

U.N. auditors have identified dozens of irregularities, including an "exorbitant" rate on a contract to supply gravel for peacekeeping barracks and $1.2 million in "unnecessary expenditures" for block bookings of hotel rooms that the United Nations was unable to fill, according to the audits.

U.N. officials also spent more than $9 million in unnecessary fees to a Canadian company, Skylink Aviation, by releasing it from its obligation to renew a nine-month contract to supply fuel for the mission, the auditors allege. Skylink then renegotiated a second nine-month contract at a much higher cost. "They clearly made it easier for us to negotiate," said Jan Ottens, a senior executive at Skylink. Ottens said the terms of the initial contract were unfair because the slow deployment of troops reduced the amount of fuel that was needed. "We were losing money big time."

U.N. peacekeeping officials acknowledge problems in Sudan. But they contend that the two procurement officials were perhaps in over their heads, but not corrupt. Understaffing, a shifting troop-deployment schedule, and Sudanese obstruction often upended U.N. plans and led to higher costs.

These officials cite a case in which the auditors accused the mission of wasting $9 million by hiring a local company to clear U.N. goods through customs, rather than relying on U.N. staff. Peacekeeping officials agree the costs are high but say that the government has prohibited the United Nations from doing the job, and that the U.N. secretary general and the Security Council have been unable to convince Khartoum to back down.

They also defended a contract for a New Zealand firm, Radiola Aerospace, to install solar-powered runway lights at the Kadugli airport, southwest of Khartoum, despite evidence that the bidding process was manipulated. Investigators found that the company improperly helped a U.N. procurement official draft the specifications of a contract that the company later won. It also sponsored a New Zealand visa application for the official's wife and pledged to cover any financial liabilities she might incur while in the country.

At the same time, the official pressed the United Nations to approve Radiola's contract after U.N. headquarters had ordered the contract terminated because the lights "failed to meet the safety specifications of the United Nations and the International Civil Aviation Organization," according to an October report by U.N. investigators.

Radiola acknowledged that it violated U.N. rules by sponsoring the visa, but the company said it fairly won the bid for the contract. "In hindsight it was inappropriate we should not have done it," said Brent Albiston, Radiola's managing director. "But absolutely no money passed hands."

Albiston said that his company informed the United Nations that solar power lights did not meet international standards, but that they made sense in a remote location where power supplies were unreliable, a position that senior U.N. peacekeeping officials backed. "The quality of the lights at Kadugli are better than they are at the international airport in Khartoum," Albiston said.

Top UN official warns of risk of Sudan-Chad war

News Article by AFP posted on February 08, 2008 at 23:37:30: EST (-5 GMT)

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - A senior UN official on Friday warned that a reported proxy war between Sudan and Chad through rebel groups on each side of their border threatened to destabilize the region and could lead to a wider conflict.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, the French head of UN peacekeeping operations, made the remarks to the Security Council as Sudanese troops attacked three communities in western Darfur, killing dozens of civilians, according to a Darfur rebel chief.

"At least 150 people from the village targeted, that is Abu Soruj, 55 kilometres (35 miles) north of Geneina (capital of West Darfur), have been killed or wounded," Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) commander Abdel Aziz Nur al-Asher said.

And Guehenno said the situation had been exacerbated by the violence in neighboring Chad over the past several days."

"The potentially destabilizing regional implications have been highlighted by numerous media reports of Chadian rebel movements receiving support in Sudan ... and Sudanese rebel movements that have acted in support of the Chadian government," he said.

"Continuing accusations by both governments of their support for rebel movements on each side of the border increase the climate of mistrust, fuel tensions between the two countries, and once again demonstrate the potential for a conflict of international dimensions in the area," he added.

Guehenno, who toured troops of the UN-African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) in Darfur during his January 21-31 visit, also complained that the force "is severely under-resourced for the tasks which it was mandated to perform."

When fully deployed, UNAMID is to become the UN's largest peacekeeping operation with 20,000 troops and 6,000 police and civilian personnel.

But only around 9,000 troops and police are currently in place.

Guehenno said the world body would give priority to deploying a contingent of Ethiopian troops as part of UNAMID, provided Khartoum quickly agreed to the simultaneous deployment of crack Nepalese and Thai units.

"If we are to deploy these units alongside the Ethiopian troops, we must inform Thailand and Nepal immediately so that urgent pre-deployment preparations can be finalized," he added.

US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington expected Khartoum to "cooperate fully with the upcoming deployments of UNAMID forces."

He said Egyptian engineering, signal and heavy transport units were expected to deploy March 10, followed by Egyptian and Ethiopian infantry battalions in March and April and the Thai infantry battalion in the "April timeframe."

"If the Sudanese government does not deliver on these steps in a timely manner, then the Security Council will need to consider appropriate action to ensure compliance," said Khalilzad, hinting at possible sanctions.

"The credibility of the Security Council is on the line," he added.

Khartoum has been dragging its feet on allowing key non-African forces to serve with UNAMID, arguing that the UN should turn to available African troops first.

Guehenno also bemoaned the fact that UNAMID was still lacking "critical military aviation and ground transportation assets," referring to 24 attack and transport helicopters.

"The Council must be aware that, should offers for these critical capabilities not be forthcoming, additional troops will not be a sufficient substitute," he said.

Meanwhile, UN envoy to Sudan Jan Eliasson said prospects for quick agreements among the fragmented Darfur insurgency "on common positions and a negotiating team appear dim."

"The situation is running out of control. We cannot get the political talks going if we don't have an atmosphere, a climate in which talks can take place," he warned.

Eliasson and African Union envoy Salim Ahmed Salim visited Darfur last month to try to restart the peace process after talks in Libya failed in October.

A peace deal was signed with the Khartoum government in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in May 2006 but only one Darfur rebel faction endorsed it, sparking deep divisions and a new surge in violence.

The Darfur rebels have since splintered into dozens of factions.

At least 200,000 people have died from the combined effects of war, famine and diseases and more than two million have fled their homes in Darfur since the ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Sudan's Arab-dominated regime in February 2003.

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