EL FASHER, Sudan (Reuters) - Overstretched peacekeepers in Darfur lack vehicles, helicopters and other equipment and could be in trouble if seriously attacked, the force’s deputy commander said on Tuesday.
The joint U.N.-African Union force now has about 12,000 soldiers and police, less than half of a promised 26,000, almost a year after it arrived in Sudan’s violent west.
Major General Emmanuel Karenzi told reporters the mission was severely short of equipment, including a total lack of transport and attack helicopters.
“I wouldn’t say we are helpless,” he said at UNAMID headquarters in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur.
“If you are talking about a fully-fledged attack on UNAMID with big weapons we may find ourselves in a difficult position to defend ourselves.”
A total of 11 UNAMID peacekeepers have been killed in Darfur in ambushes and other incidents since the force replaced an African Union mission at the beginning of the year.
The peacekeepers, who are supposed to cover a remote region about the size of France, have often found themselves caught up in a chaotic conflict involving bandits, government forces, insurgent factions and militias.
In the single bloodiest attack on peacekeepers since the start of the conflict, 12 African Union troops were killed when gunmen stormed their base in Haskanita in September 2007.
Karenzi said officers were still hoping to build up the international force to 60 per cent of its promised deployment by the end of the year. But he said the impact of a simple increase in troop numbers would be minimal.
“We will be better of than where we are today but there will still be big gaps in terms of what we are expected to do.”
The force still needed transport and logistics units, together with the vehicles and equipment. It was also still waiting for 24 transport and attack helicopters.
Most of the units lacked night-vision equipment, he said.
Almost six years of fighting in Darfur has killed 200,000 people and driven more than 2.5 million from their homes, international experts say.
Major General Karenzi briefed reporters during a visit to El Fasher and south Darfur’s capital Nyala by the U.N.’s humanitarian aid chief John Holmes.
Holmes said Darfur’s humanitarian situation was deteriorating as people were still being attacked and displaced. Large parts of Darfur’s population had moved to camps, he said.
“The problem is that people have been in camps for four or five years now. The wider question is how long can we go on like this,” Holmes said.
Editing by Angus MacSwan