Aircraft cuts, Sudan war worries cloud UN Security Council mission

By John Heilprin, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Aircraft cuts, Sudan worries cloud UN council trip

ENTEBBE, Uganda — A $73 million budget cut has forced a major air base for United Nations peacekeeping missions to eliminate three planes and more cutbacks may be needed, hampering operations in Congo and Sudan, a senior U.N. official said Wednesday.

Paul Buades, the new director of support services for the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in Congo, told journalists that six more planes among the U.N.’s 68 aircraft may have to be mothballed as well.

“It reduces the capability of the forces,” Buades said in answer to a question about how fewer U.N. planes would affect peacekeeping efforts. “I feel sorry, as a manager responsible for the support, that I cannot deliver up to the ambition” of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative in Congo.

Buades said India has pulled back eight helicopters and the U.N. has been left with no attack helicopters and only non-military commercial helicopters.

The U.N. Security Council — including the top envoys from permanent council members U.S., Russia, China and Britain — toured the Entebbe air base Wednesday and met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni ahead of a visit this week to Sudan.

The chief aim of the trip to Sudan is to prevent any obstruction of a referendum in early January that could split Africa’s largest nation in two, and to see what can be done about a recent escalation in violence in the country’s western Darfur region.

Southern Sudan, a semi-autonomous region, is scheduled to vote on whether to secede from the north. The oil-rich region of Abyei is due to hold a separate vote the same day, deciding whether to be part of the north or the south.

Vote preparations are behind schedule, and Security Council diplomats say the votes must proceed on time to avoid reigniting the catastrophic civil war that raged for decades and ended in 2005.

“The principle purpose of the trip is to underscore the council’s commitment to holding the referenda on time, and that they be a credible representation of the people of Southern Sudan and Abyei, and that the results be respected,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, told The Associated Press.

U.S. President Barack Obama told a high-level meeting he convened last month to rally international support for Sudan that the nation can choose peace or “slip backwards into bloodshed.”

Council members are scheduled to fly to Juba, the regional capital of Southern Sudan, and then on to conflict-wracked western Darfur and Khartoum. They plan to skip any contact with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, charged by the International Criminal Court with war crimes and genocide.

will not be displayed