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Group tasks world over Darfur aid

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Written on 9:49 PM by yahoo

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NEW YORK (AP) -- A Darfur advocacy group complained Wednesday that nations aren't doing enough to help the U.N. peacekeeping mission for the stricken Sudanese region, urging them to provide helicopters and other equipment needed to protect civilians.

Police ask a woman holding her baby to stand prior to the arrival of President Omar al-Beshir to West Darfur.

Police ask a woman holding her baby to stand prior to the arrival of President Omar al-Beshir to West Darfur.

"Without helicopters, the force's ability to respond quickly to events and fulfill its mandate to protect civilians is severely compromised," said a report released by the Save Darfur Coalition.

The report, written by aviation expert Thomas Withington, said military powers like the U.S., Britain and France are tied down in wars and other peacekeeping operations.

But it singled out the Czech Republic, Italy, Romania, Spain, Ukraine and India, saying they have suitable aircraft needed for the mission.

The report came on the first anniversary of the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized the Darfur peacekeeping mission, which is struggling to get enough troops and equipment. Council members are debating this week the mission's renewal, which expires Thursday.

The peacekeeping force, a joint operation of the United Nations and African Union, has only about a third of its authorized 26,000 personnel.

A U.N. official in Darfur told The Associated Press the mission has only 27 transport helicopters, all commercially leased.

U.N. documents say the mission needs 18 medium-lift military helicopters and the force has sought to get six attack helicopters. But the U.N. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with journalists, said it has none and an offer from Ethiopia of five combat helicopters was still being discussed.

Many military helicopters that could be used by the UNAMID mission in Darfur are sitting in hangars or being used in air shows, the report said.

It said NATO nations "could provide as many as 104 suitable helicopters for the UNAMID force," saying the alliance members best placed to provide the aircraft are the Czech Republic, Italy, Romania and Spain. In addition, it said, "Ukraine and India could together contribute 34 helicopters."

There was no immediate comment from the governments of those nations.

The report was endorsed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has repeatedly expressed frustration over the lack of attack and transport helicopters and other critical gear that he says is crucial for the Darfur peacekeeping mission.

"Given the terrain and security situation in Darfur, it is critical that member states provide missing aviation assets," Ban said in a statement released by his office.

Officials say such helicopters could have been used to help when an armed group in Darfur attacked a convoy of peacekeepers July 8. Seven peacekeepers were killed and at least 19 suffered wounds.


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