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9 June - Having seen first-hand how United Nations female peacekeepers helped her own country rebuild, Sierra Leone's highest-ranking female police officer is now hoping to duplicate those successes in the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur.

Assistant Inspector-General Kadi Facondo is among the many police officers of the joint UN-African peacekeeping mission in Darfur (known as UNAMID) who are working to help local women deal with sexual and gender-based violence and other threats and challenges.

Ms. Facondo told the UN News Centre that her own country, Sierra Leone, has made important inroads in tacking the problems of sexual violence.

Thanks to the assistance of an earlier UN peacekeeping mission in the West African country, the police – for whom she has worked for more than a quarter of a century – set up family support units to encourage survivors of rape, domestic violence and other crimes to come forward.

These centres now number more than 81 across the country, and the “fact that we keep getting requests to establish more tell us that we are doing a good job,” Ms. Facondo said, stressing that the success is partly attributable to the efforts of female blue helmets.

Women and children, she observed, were much more comfortable talking to female peacekeepers. Not only did the presence of women police officers and enhanced training result in “issues [coming] out that they wanted to address within their communities,” but also in the expansion of the investigation of cases.

Now at UNAMID, Ms. Facondo underscored the importance of having gender officers when escorting women to collect firewood, where they face risks of murder, rape and other violence.

Women who are internally displaced persons (IDPs) “feel confident when they move alongside” UN Police (UNPOL), she said.

As in Sierra Leone, Ms. Facondo said that women affected by sexual and gender-based violence “feel comfortable talking with UNPOL female officers” in Darfur, where seven years of conflict have killed an estimated 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million others from their homes.

She underscored the reality that blue helmets cannot be present in all areas of Darfur, an area roughly the size of Spain, “but we do realize that with those areas we can access, we must have gender officers working there,” emphasizing the need to bolster the capacity of the Sudanese police force as well.

Ms. Facondo has a track record in helping enhance police services in post-conflict countries, having assisted in training officers in Sierra Leone's neighbour, Liberia, which is recovering from its own brutal civil war.

With the two nations also sharing similar traditions and customs, “who best could have done this training?” she asked.