7 February 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Despite continued logistical challenges, notably a shortage of aviation and ground transport, the United Nations was working to meet deadlines for deploying much-needed equipment and troops on the ground in Darfur, Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General and Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Department of Field Support told correspondents this afternoon.

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference, Ms. Holl Lute said that, despite offers from troop-contributing countries -– some of which did not meet the Organization’s needs-- the joint African Union-United Nations Hybrid Force in Darfur (UNAMID) was still short one medium and one heavy transport unit, one multi-role logistics unit and helicopters.

“We’re looking at a variety of solutions,” she said.  “The most preferred solution is a homogenous helicopter unit that can be deployed from one or more troop-contributing countries.  Failing that, we’re looking at composite solutions where we get airframes and pilots (from different countries) and try to put packages together while maintaining the integrity of the operational capability of the mission on the ground.” 

Since the United Nations African Mission in the Sudan (AMIS) transferred control 31 December 2007 to UNAMID, troop-contributing countries had begun sending personnel and equipment, but the lack of security and housing infrastructure in remote camps made the process difficult, she explained.  At present, there were approximately 9,000 troops on the ground.  Ethiopian troops set to join UNAMID would make a “pre-deployment” visit next week, and would likely be on the ground in April.  Bangladeshi troops were being deployed now and other Bangladeshi personnel would arrive at the end of March.  The United Nations was also continuing talks with the Government of Bangladesh to supply helicopters since some of the helicopter units it already offered were not considered suitable.  “Ideally, we want a fully-contained squadron of six,” she said. 

She noted that she and her team recently conducted technical missions to Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -– where the United Nations has peacekeeping operations -- to observe conditions on the ground there.  The team also met with officials in India,a large troop-contributing country, to discuss the creation of the new Department of Field Support and the priorities and perspectives of India and other contributor countries.  Her office was also working with colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Management to balance proper planning with flexibility and timely deployment in politically challenging, complex circumstances. 

“We need to address that tension through rapid start-up, while continuing to subject ourselves to the appropriate levels of control that an Organization of this size and complexity has an obligation to observe,” she said.

During the press conference, a reporter asked if there had been a “chill effect” from the recent violence in Chad on the motivation of countries to contribute troops.  She said that the Organization had not detected any such effect and was sticking to its deployment schedule.

Asked about her office’s role in the timing of informing countries -– whether Security Council or troop contributors -- about no-bid, sole-source contracts, such as the $250 million contract for Lockheed Martin Corporation to build camps for UNAMID and whether such contracts were appropriate, she said:  We notified the controller with a recommendation of an option that we thought that was the most operationally viable on the ground under the circumstances that we thought we faced at the time.”

She added:  “This does pitch up in pretty sharp relief the challenges that we are facing now in this generation of peacekeeping, with these large complex missions under extremely difficult, austere and dangerous circumstances, coming at us repeatedly, simultaneously to other missions, with a need to get operational capability on the ground.”

Member States had voiced concerns about whether security and housing were sufficient to accommodate and protect their troops –- a situation the Lockheed Martin contract aimed to address, she noted.

As to what her office had done to address structural concerns raised by the  Procurement Task Force of the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), she said it was working with the Department of Management’s Procurement Division to establish parameters for effective action and oversight of people seeking to abuse the procurement process and enrich themselves.  Her office was also trying to create a procurement architecture that would balance good value for money with timely and reliable responses to the needs of peacekeeping operations on the ground.

As to when the head of the Department of Field Support would be chosen and whether she was interested in the job, she said a decision was expected soon and that she was in fact interested.  She also dismissed a reporter’s concern that she had a possible conflict of interest in her United Nations role because her husband, Douglas Lute, was the United States’ Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan.

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For information media • not an official record