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U.N.'s Man in Darfur Addresses New Crisis

Bombs are once again raining down on Darfur, Sudan, and Arab militias known as janjaweed are again raiding and burning villages. It's a return to the style of attacks that began the violence in Darfur more than five years ago.

The only thing protecting civilians caught between government forces and countless rebel factions is an exhausted and ill-equipped group of African Union peacekeepers.

That may change soon, though, perhaps not soon enough.


Last summer, the United Nations gave the go-ahead to a new, joint peacekeeping force that would triple the number of troops in Darfur.

But the Sudanese government has actively tried to slow — and even block — its deployment.

Michael Gaouette, the leader of the U.N. team responsible for those peacekeepers, says the U.N. is moving as fast as it can, but there's another obstacle in his way: Darfur itself. In a matter of months, thousands of troops are to be dropped in the middle of Africa with minimal infrastructure.

Once the troops are in Darfur, Gaouette tells Melissa Block, their mandate is "tremendously expansive."

"We've been tasked to look into the human rights situation. We've been tasked to help with building systems for the rule of law. We've been tasked to help in an area they call 'child protection,'" he says. "But the marquee issue in the mandate is 'protection of civilians.'"


Gaouette says he's concerned that there may be an expectation that the force "would be able to somehow magically step between two warring parties and stop a war."

"We're not equipped to do so."

"There is one thing we have to clarify: that a peacekeeping operation is just that," he says. "It is deployed and it is equipped and capable of operating in an environment where two sides have agreed to a peace. It's not deployed to enforce a peace."

Gaouette says these are "dark days" in west Darfur, and even fully deployed, the joint peacekeeping force will not solve the problem.

"It's politics that will solve the problem."

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