U.N. force makes progress in Darfur
Security has improved slightly in parts of Sudan's troubled western region, but only 9,000 of the 26,000 peacekeeping troops have been deployed so far.
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"They have made some small differences in the areas where they have deployed in terms of restarting patrols, engaging with community leaders," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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"But bombings and fighting between rebels and government continue just as they always have done."
Nowhere is the bombing and fighting more obvious than on the road out of El Geneina known as the Northern Corridor.
Village after village bears the scars of war. Simple thatch huts are replaced by blackened ashes. Broken pottery litters marketplaces as a UNAMID patrol passes, following the dust road to Sirba and Sileia.
This strategic region along the border with Chad was taken by rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement in December. The government took it back in February, sending Antonov bombers and the janjaweed to do its dirty work.
A report by UNAMID puts the death toll at 115. Another 30,000 people were forced from their homes.
Tribal elders in Sileia echo their counterparts in El Geneina as two white armored personnel carriers park in the shade of an acacia tree.
"Now the UN cars are here, stopped in front of us, so we feel safe, says Adam Omar Mohammed as he sits on a piece of cardboard in the town square. "We want the UN to come here and stay here."
He may get his wish. UNAMID commanders are planning to build a small observation post in the town.
But for now they are powerless to stop full-scale military engagements.
After the February attacks, it took days for monitors to arrive from El Geneina where they had been besieged by aid workers demanding they intervene.
"We feel disappointed," said Colonel Amgad Morsy, chief of staff for UNAMID Sector West. "We don't have the capability. It's a weekly and daily dispute that IDPs [internally displaced people] come and say: 'Our people are being harassed, our women are raped.' What we can do is try to build confidence, but it's still the very minimum."
He points to the resumption of night patrols and escorts for women collecting firewood, but says for now his No. 1 priority has to be ensuring that his soldiers are safe.
There is no doubt that it will take time for his force to reach the levels it needs to provide real security. But there are other questions about the environment they will find themselves trying to police.
Professor Elteyb Hag Ateya, director of the Peace Research Institute at Khartoum University, says the African Union mission failed because of the absence of a stable cease-fire or peace deal, not necessarily because the lack of troops, helicopters, or cash.
The new hybrid force, he adds, has inherited the same conditions and conundrum.
"African forces were brought into an incomprehensible situation," says Mr. Ateya. "No one knew who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.
"What is UNAMID to do?" he says. "Keep peace? With whom and between whom? That is the question."