Activists in Sudan are urging the UN and African Union not to go ahead with plans to withdraw 26 000 peacekeepers from Darfur this year, claiming the move will put lives at risk.
The peacekeepers from the AU-UN hybrid operation in Darfur (Unamid), which has a mandate to protect civilians by force if necessary, will leave in October under plans expected to be agreed by the UN security council, although it is understood the UK and Germany want to delay troop withdrawal.
The withdrawal will make way for a new UN “political mission” in the country to help the government draw up a new constitution and arrange elections.
Almost 100 civil society groups have signed a petition opposing the plan which decries the “cone of silence” around what it says is persistent conflict in Darfur.
“For the civilians, the political mission won’t solve their problems,” Al-Sadiq Ali Hassan, the secretary general of the Darfur Bar Association, told the Guardian. “There will be a huge gap for security chaos and I expect the situation will worsen.”
Jehanne Henry, east Africa director at Human Rights Watch, added: “Any UN mission should have the capacity to protect civilians still at risk of violence . . . Darfur is not like the rest of Sudan an d has a long legacy of state-sponsored violence which has made civilians across the region extremely distrustful of state forces.”
Unamid arrived in Darfur in 2007 after the government-backed Janjaweed militias sought to suppress an insurgency by marginalised black African groups.
More than 350 000 people have been killed and at least 2 million displaced since 2003.
Earlier this month, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the UN under-secretary-general for peace operations, said a future UN mission would seek to “preserve and consolidate the gains made over the years” and continue on from Unamid peacebuilding.
The Guardian understands the UN has lobbied Sudan’s prime minister Abdalla Hamdok to take up the new mission. — Guardian.
A UN official claimed Nicholas Haysom, a UN chief adviser, made extensive calls to Hamdok and his Khartoum office “using personal diplomacy” to accept the new mission.
Hamdok needs the new UN mission to support efforts to hold elections before the transitional government ends in 2022, and to draw up a new constitution.
The commander of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, Mohamed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, and the army are understood to want peacekeepers out. The Rapid Support Forces have been accused of atrocities in Darfur. Hemedti has denied any involvement in attacks on civilians.
“Hamdok has lost a lot of credibility over the follow-on mission because he hasn’t stood up for Darfurians and instead has let Hemedti and the NCP [National Congress party] dictate Sudan’s response,” said a UN official, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The UN denied applying pressure. “The UN secretariat and special adviser Haysom absolutely respect the right of these parties to make this decision without any pressure,” said spokesperson Ferhan Haq.