Violence possible if Darfur force delayed: commander

Sat Dec 1, 2007 2:04pm EST
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By Opheera McDoom

El-FASHER, Sudan (Reuters) - Failure to deploy a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission could push Sudan's Darfur region back into a spiral of violence, the military head of the mission said on Saturday.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno said last week Khartoum had demanded such stringent restrictions on the 26,000-strong force that its deployment was in doubt.

"If people are disappointed this could be expressed in many ways and one of them could be in a violent way and then ... we will go back to square one," force commander Martin Luther Agwai said.

On the possibility the force would not deploy, he said: "As the man on the receiving end I'm disturbed and concerned."

Khartoum agreed to the joint force after months of threats, negotiations and talks but extracted heavy concessions from the international community for that agreement.

The force will replace a struggling AU mission of almost 7,000 personnel which has failed to stop the conflict which the U.N. estimates has killed 200,000 in a terrible humanitarian crisis and forced 2.5 million from their homes.

Sudan has yet to provide land in el-Geneina and Zalengei towns in West Darfur, U.N. spokesman Ali Hamato said. With the joint mission due to take over by the end of the year Agwai said the mission was months behind schedule.

He said the best case scenario was to have 6,500 troops on the ground and maybe an additional 3,000 police by the takeover.   Continued...