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RPT-Darfuris happy with new UN-AU force
February 13, 2008 / 11:27 PM / 10 years ago

RPT-Darfuris happy with new UN-AU force

(Repeats item filed earlier on Thursday)

By Opheera McDoom

ARDAMATA CAMP, Sudan, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Dusty Darfuri children dashed after the U.N. and African Union vehicles laughing and copying new Philippines police who gave good-natured peace signs.

"They used to throw stones at us," said one former African Union officer who was on patrol.

The joint peacekeeping force took over from a struggling African Union mission on Dec. 31 and the verdict from thousands of Darfuris is they are doing a good job with more interaction, day and night patrols and a new vigour about their work.

While they are far short of the 26,000 police and troops eventually due to deploy in the world’s largest U.N.-funded peacekeeping operation, the change has been received well.

"Before we would see the cars moving but would never meet them (the AU)," said Ardamata camp spokeswoman Mariam Abdullahi Bakhiet. "There is a big difference and they help us out a lot."

She said new night patrols from the U.N. force had stopped militia, locally called Janjaweed, from coming into camps like Ardamata in West Darfur at night and shooting or beating people.

"They (the U.N.-AU patrol) sometimes come at night and they (the Janjaweed) are afraid of them and don’t come," she said.

The Philippines have sent 42 new civilian police to the mission who on Wednesday went on their first patrol into the camps. Bangladeshi police have also been deployed.

They received a warning from the officer in charge to ensure they have an exit strategy during patrols as camp residents may mistake them for Chinese engineers, who many reject as they view Beijing as supporting Khartoum’s counter-insurgency campaign.

While they looked slightly concerned, they still threw themselves into the task with fervour, waving at everyone they passed in the car and greeting everyone in the dirt streets.



PEACE SIGNS

Instead of the thumbs-up and "okay" which aid workers from the world’s largest humanitarian operation taught children in the camps, the Filipinos taught them the "peace" sign.

The AU was viewed with suspicion by many Darfuris as they mediated a 2006 peace deal which most people rejected. That coupled with its inability to stem attacks on civilians pushed frustrated people to burn AU bases in several camps.

But many in the new joint force, called UNAMID, voiced concerns about high expectations Darfuris had that they could protect them. Since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing government of neglect, 2.5 million have been driven from their homes and experts estimate 200,000 have died.

The force’s composition is still only at 9,000 strength and is almost entirely the old AU mission with new blue caps. But U.N. systems are being put into place and there is a revived energy around the camps of soldiers under new leadership.

"The people here have a very high expectation for UNAMID even though it is just one month and two weeks old," said UNAMID Ardamata Camp Coordinator Dembo Trawally. He used to work for the African Union but has now changed his hat to a blue beret.

He said Darfuris were happy when the AU was taken over but warned until armed police units came they would not be able to fully protect the people at night when most attacks happen.

"Once the formed police units are on the ground then we will not only patrol but we will live with the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in their localities with protection," he said. The mission would then have a 24-hour presence.

Deployment of the hybrid force has been long and arduous. It took months of persuasion, threats and talks for Khartoum to accept a compromise joint peacekeeping force.

Then discussion continued over its operational rules and how many African troops could be part of the force. On Saturday Khartoum finally signed off on the force’s operational rules and additional forces hope to begin to deploy next month.



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