I'm catching up on my work emails today, and a quick glance through the security reports confirms that West Darfur remains in a state of near anarchy.
Most aid agencies stopped using the roads in this part of Darfur in August/September, following daily attacks on humanitarian convoys. The situation had reached a level where you could pretty much be guaranteed to find yourself in an ambush if you used certain roads. Not surprisingly, many aid agencies have suspended their operations in certain areas, while others began to rely on UN helicopters to get around.
The two helicopters that are based in the El Geneina, the state capital, only have enough fuel for a certain amount of flights though (80 hrs per month I think - apparently there's no money in the UN coffers for more than that).
So now it seems that someone at the UN thought it would be a good idea to check if the roads have become a bit safer again - this helicopter business, after all, is becoming a pretty heavy drain on the budget.
"The UN road assessment of the Geneina-Mournei was conducted last week," I read in the security minutes. So far, so good.
(Before I go on, I will come out and ashamedly admit that I often find security procedures, meetings and reports over here in Darfur amusing. I know I shouldn't - this is serious stuff after all. But sometimes the information and reports are just so confusing and absurd that I can't help but laugh. In my defense, I think it's a relatively normal coping mechanism. All of us are doing it: for weeks, I have been engaged in an email battle with several colleagues to try and find more and more bizzare or funny security reports.)
So, back to minutes: "The UN road assessment of the Geneina-Mournei road was conducted last week."
Seems like a good idea, I think. Until I realise how the security assessment was actually carried out.
"Two UN vehicles with national and international staff were sent to check the safety of the road. In Habillah Konari road, the convoy was ambushed. Fortunately, the 2 cars were keeping space between each other and so the second car managed to escape and report the incident to the nearest police station. The ambushed car then joined the other one at the police station after the attackers had taken all the personal belongings of the staff in that car."
"Police responded straight away and the UN staff on their way back heard the shooting. As a result of this incident UN had suspended all the planned road assessment."
Now I'm not a security expert. I don't know how road assessments and security checks are usually carried out, or what would be the best way of going about them.
And it may just be me, but somehow, sending a few carloads full of staff into the danger zone to wait and see whether or not the bandits are still ambushing cars does not seem particularly sophisticated - or safe.
There are too many emails in my inbox to ponder security issues too long, so I just shrug and make a mental note to myself, "Geneina-Mournei road still not safe". I'm glad the UN is trying to check up on the security situation - someone needs to, because Darfur's still a mess. But today, I thank my lucky stars I am not working for a UN security assessment team.