Five stories from over the course of today:
The African Union (AU)/UN hybrid mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which is set to replace the AU's African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) has inaugurated its operational base in the town of El Fasher.
UNAMID, established by the Security Council in July 2007, will eventually comprise 19,555 military and 6,432 police personnel, making it one of the largest UN peacekeeping missions in history.
It is widely hoped that the hybrid force will be more effective in protecting civilians in Darfur than AMIS, which was made up of just 7,000 troops.
"Today [31 October] UNAMID marks its first day in its El Fasher Headquarters, completing preparations to assume operational command authority, as requested by the Security Council," Rodolphe Adada, UN-AU Joint Special Representative for Darfur said in a statement. "We have already completed the pre-handover preparations, involving deployment and movement of command elements and key staff to their designated offices, spaces, and installations throughout Darfur."
Officials from both the UN and [the] AU were already conducting pre-deployment visits to countries that have pledged to contribute soldiers, [in order] to inspect the troops and their equipment. The joint mission has not received adequate pledges for specialised units, such as air and land transport support, Adada said.
The troops are expected from Burkina Faso, Egypt, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal. Other potential contributors are Bangladesh, Jordan, Nordic countries, Nepal, [the] Netherlands, and Thailand.
A bolstered United Nations-African Union force charged with bringing peace to Sudan's ravaged Darfur region may be operational by early next year, the head of the mission said [on] Wednesday.
Rodolphe Adada made the announcement during the inauguration of the new force's headquarters in Darfur's main city of Al-Fasher, the day after US President George W. Bush called for the United Nations to "get moving" on its deployment.
The headquarters opened three months to the day after the UN Security Council, on July 31, approved the new force of over 26,000 troops and police, baptised UNAMID, to replace the current under-equipped AU deployment of 7,000.
"This is a great day for UNAMID," Adada told journalists. "Three months ago, when the Security Council voted [on] Resolution 1769, it was an idea, and today we are a reality. Now we can begin the real work."
"We may be operational in the beginning of the next year," he said.
The United Nations said earlier this month [October] it had agreed with the African Union to accept troop contingents from 16 countries, mostly from Africa, but also from Bangladesh, Jordan, Nepal, the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, and Thailand.
Some troops have arrived already, but have been initially integrated into the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) while UNAMID is being set up.
The full force is not expected to be deployed until well into 2008.
"We are a step further toward the handover from AMIS to UNAMID," he said, adding that "[this] is the beginning of UNAMID."
"We are waiting for approval from the Sudanese government for infantry troops from two or three non-African countries," he said, repeating a UN appeal made earlier this month for more aircraft to patrol an area the size of France.
Asked about ongoing peace talks in the Libyan city of Sirte, attended by some rebels and Khartoum, but boycotted by the most-representative rebel factions, the Congolese politician said [that] "we need peace between Sudanese."
"There are two faces of the Darfur problem -- [the] establishing of UNAMID and the political issue. We need peace between Sudanese, because it will be the basis of our work."
Bush said on Tuesday that he had discussed the conflict with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and urged him to "get moving those troops into the Darfur region as quickly as possible."
The US president also stressed that "it's important to continue putting the pressure on the respective parties to come up with an agreement that will help end the genocide" in Darfur.
Conflict and famine in Darfur have left at least 200,000 people dead and two million displaced, according to international organisations, since Khartoum enlisted Janjaweed Arab militia allies to put down an ethnic-minority revolt in 2003.
Khartoum puts the death toll much lower.
From the AP...
A U.N. official inaugurated [on] Wednesday headquarters in Darfur for the joint U.N.-AU mission with a satellite-phone call to the United Nations in New York and the African Union seat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The move reflected a key administrative step toward merging U.N.'s peacekeeping efforts in the war-torn western Sudanese region with those of the overmatched African Union.
A formal takeover by the joint U.N.-AU force is due [on] Jan. 1.
"It is a great day for the United Nations and the African Union, the day of UNAMID's launch, which was only an idea, three months ago, but now it is a profound reality," said Rodolphe Adada, chief of the United Nations and African Union joint mission to Darfur, or UNAMID.
U.N. spokesman Ali Hamati told The Associated Press on the phone from Darfur that "this may look as a little step, but its [implications] are wide, it's a huge move toward the final assumption of full control in Darfur."
Hamati said [that] Adada made the first phone calls from the headquarters in El Fasher, North Darfur, and inspected its electronic and satellite equipment as some 150 people, including peacekeepers, [and] local and Khartoum officials attended.
In a press statement, Adada said [that] he has "all the confidence that the remaining steps toward the final assumption of authority by UNAMID will be concluded before the end of this year, so that we can start implementing our mandate in 2008 in full gear."
The joint U.N.-AU force in Darfur will comprise more than 19,000 military personnel, 6,000 police officers, and 5,500 civil personnel.
The troop-contributing countries include Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Bangladesh, Jordan, Nepal, and Thailand.
The joint force will replace a beleaguered 7,000-member AU force that has been unable to stop Darfur's bloodshed. Sudan agreed to the deployment of the joint force after months of international pressure and painstaking negotiations, which ended with a pledge that it would be predominantly African.
The Darfur conflict began when ethnic-African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudan's government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed — a charge [that] it denies. More than 200,000 people have been killed in four years of violence.
At the El Fasher ceremony, Adada said [that] the joint mission still faces a "lack of pledges for specialized units in areas such as aviation and land transport" and also thanked the Sudanese government for making Wednesday's launch possible.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Darfur last month [September] to press for an end to the conflict, has warned that UNAMID faces "enormously complex" logistical challenges. And some observers are skeptical [that] such a large force will manage to deploy on time.
Darfur civilians have grown increasingly frustrated with the AU's lack of protection since it came in June 2004, and hope [that] the new, hybrid U.N.-AU force will better secure refugee camps and towns [in order] to bring back stability.
One of the main weaknesses of the AU's force is a mandate more focused on monitoring violence than preventing it. That weakness was underscored when a rebel attack in the Darfur village of Haskanita last month left 10 AU peacekeepers dead.
A joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force will begin operating in Darfur by early next year, the mission's political head said on Wednesday, as the force's new headquarters was inaugurated in western Sudan.
A 26,000-strong force will absorb a struggling AU mission of 7,000 troops which has failed to stem the violence in Sudan's remote west. Sudan accepted the much-larger joint mission after months of talks, threats, and negotiations.
"At the beginning of next year, we will begin to be operational," Rodolphe Adada told reporters in el-Fasher, where the U.N.-AU force will be headquartered.
He said [that] 4,000 members of a U.N. "heavy support" package would deploy [in order] to add to the AU troops on the ground.
But he said [that] they were still waiting for Sudan's approval of the list of troop-contributing countries for the force, as well as some aviation and other logistics which the United Nations had hoped [that] Western nations would provide.
"The only concern is about one or two non-African countries who have pledged some infantry troops," he said about why Khartoum had not yet approved the force composition.
Khartoum had insisted [that] the force be mostly African.
Adada was in el-Fasher on Wednesday to inaugurate the headquarters of the new force. Rows of dozens of empty pre-fabricated huts filled the site surrounded by desert in the outskirts of the town.
A lack of water and the provision of land pose a huge obstacle to the force deployment, issues which must be fully resolved before it can begin to protect millions of Darfuris dependent on the world's largest aid operation there.
The force, to be known as UNAMID, also has no ceasefire to monitor. Adada said [that] the old ceasefire commission monitoring an April 2004 truce would be suspended, as new talks have started in the Liyban town of Sirte.
Adada said [that] the talks hoped to agree [on] an "interim mechanism" to monitor any truce.
But with key rebel factions boycotting the negotiations, the hopes for an early ceasefire agreed in Sirte were dashed. They set difficult conditions for attendance and asked for more time to unite their ranks. A key rebel leader has also said [that] he would not take part in talks until the U.N. was in Darfur to provide security.
"This is part of their conditions to establish UNAMID, and we are establishing UNAMID now," Adada said.
While the joint U.N.-AU mediations has refused to adjourn the talks, despite the non-attendance of rebels, they will send a team to meet the hold-out groups to bring them to the table.
International experts estimate [that] some 200,000 people have died in 4-1/2 years of fighting in Darfur since mostly non-Arabs took up arm in early 2003, accusing central government of neglect.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for a cabinet minister and [a] militia leader, both accused of colluding in war crimes.
The United Nations-African Union hybrid peacekeeping operation for Darfur (UNAMID) today [Wednesday] began operations at its El Fasher Headquarters, in what the senior UN official there called a milestone for the strife-torn Sudanese region.
“It is a great day for the United Nations and the African Union, the day of UNAMID's launch, which was only an idea, three months ago, but now it is a profound reality,” said Rodolphe Adada, the UN-AU Joint Special Representative for Darfur.
“I am pleased to say that with the cooperation of the Government of Sudan, we are one more step closer to embark on our peacekeeping mandate for the people of Darfur,” he declared.
But Mr. Adada cautioned that more support is needed, saying [that] UNAMID is “facing a lack of pledges for specialized units in areas such as aviation and land transport that should be arriving in Darfur as part of the heavy support package” to the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which has been on the ground in Darfur since 2004.
The UN and [the] AU are currently conducting pre-deployment visits to some of the troop-contributing countries [in order] to inspect the uniformed personnel and their equipment, according to the envoy.
“I have all the confidence that the remaining steps towards the final assumption of authority by UNAMID will be concluded before the end of this year, so that we can start implementing our mandate in 2008 in full gear,” he said.
Conflict in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and [has] uprooted another 2.5 million. UN-AU-mediated talks are currently underway in Sirte, Libya, aimed at achieving a lasting political solution to the fighting, which began in 2003 and involves rebels, Government forces, and allied militia known as the Janjaweed.