Rebecca Jovin, a member of the Sudan Programs Group for the U.S. Department of State, writes about her recent visit to Sudan.
I just returned from Darfur where I was following up on the January 1 transfer of about $40 million in U.S. Government equipment to the new UN peacekeeping force known as UNAMID.
There is a lot of activity these days in El Fasher, North Darfur's remote, dusty capital. In fact, the once-sleepy city of about 200,000 is booming: new hotels and houses are being built all around town, the downtown market is growing and they're putting street lights along the main road. UNAMID's presence in town remains limited, but it's clear everybody expects a surge of people over the coming weeks and months. UN Resolution 1769, which established the peacekeeping force last July, calls for 26,000 troops and police to be in Darfur when UNAMID is at full force -- the largest peacekeeping operation ever deployed. Right now, UNAMID has about 9,000 personnel in Darfur, an area about the size of France.
Although El Fasher is thriving, hundreds of thousands of Darfuris are still living in IPD camps -- often using plastic sheeting for shelter -- just miles from the downtown area. Their lives are still miserable -- driven from their homes and hampered by interethnic fighting and lawlessness on the ground. Many hope the UN peacekeepers will help improve the security situation and bring stability to the region.
I had the chance to travel outside of El Fasher as well. One day we flew up to Millit, one of the 34 base camps the USG initially built for the African Union (AMIS) peacekeepers who are now part of UNAMID. I accompanied one of the Technical Advisory Teams (TATs) our government has provided to help the transition from AMIS to UNAMID, and advise UNAMID personnel on camp management. These TATs are essentially small teams of contractors who advise UNAMID personnel on how to keep the camps running, including how to maintain the power, the sanitation, and the communications equipment.
In Zam Zam, I saw new tents and facilities that USG contractors had built back in 2007 to house additional peacekeepers. And we turned over a large donation of equipment to Brig. General Eze, a Nigerian camp commander under UNAMID.
In Nyala, Chinese engineers and Bangadeshi police units were on the ground. When I visited, the Chinese had not yet started building one of the “supercamps” the UN will use during this large peacekeeping mission, but I did see them unpacking newly arrived containers and checking on construction equipment.
In addition to traveling out to Darfur, I also spent several days in the capital city of Khartoum. It was a sad atmosphere due to the tragic killing of USAID employees John Granville and Abdelrahman Abbas on New Year's Day. I had the opportunity to be in Khartoum for a memorial service held in honor of John and Abdelrahman and to hear touching personal accounts from friends and colleagues, who knew and loved both of them. John and Abdelrahman will be missed, and we all continue to hope that the Sudanese investigations will shed some light on this horrific event.