UN keeps Darfur peacekeepers but hopes for their departure

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to keep the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur for another year in hopes the new civilian-led transitional government can restore peace, and the troops can be replaced by civilians who focus on the country's development.

The British and German-drafted resolution asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to provide a report to the council by Jan. 31 assessing the situation on the ground and the state of the peace process, and recommending options for a follow-on U.N. mission.

Britain's deputy ambassador Jonathan Allen told the council after the vote that the resolution responds to a request from the new transitional government "to avoid any security vacuum in Darfur."

He said it also sends "a clear message" to all groups to seize the opportunity to establish a comprehensive peace in Darfur, stressing that "preconditions need to be abandoned in favor of meaningful engagement in the peace process."

In late June, the Security Council voted unanimously to put the brakes on the withdrawal of the joint U.N.-African Union force known as UNAMID until Oct. 31 and asked the U.N. and AU what to do about continuing the withdrawal. They both recommended extending its mandate until Oct. 31, 2020, which the council approved Thursday.

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge it denies. In recent years, as the result of a successful government military campaign, the rebellion has been reduced to a rebel Sudan Liberation Army faction headed by Abdul Wahid Elnur in Jebel Marra.

In July 2018, the Security Council voted to dramatically cut the UNAMID force in response to reduced fighting and improved security conditions. The target then was to end the mission in June 30, 2020.

The Darfur conflict took place under the three-decade autocratic rule of former president Omar al-Bashir, during which Sudan was convulsed by a bloody civil war and rebellions, not only in Darfur but in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. Al-Bashir's rule ended in April when the military ousted him after mass street protests by a pro-democracy movement which began late last year.

A power-sharing agreement signed in August between the military and protesters calls for the government to reach a peace agreement with armed groups within six months.

Britain's Allen said the Security Council has "a partner" in Sudan's new government and "looks forward to the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding."

Germany's U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said the resolution sends "a very strong message of support" to Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and to Sudanese efforts to foster peace.

It also reaffirms UNAMID's important role in the coming year and lays out a "road map" to a transition from peacekeeping to a political mission, he said.

Michael Barkin, the U.S. Mission's senior policy adviser, said "the United States fully expects this to be UNAMID's final extension, barring extraordinary circumstances."

The U.S. believes it's "in the interest of Sudan" to end the mission within the next year and replace it with a U.N. mission "with a country-wide mandate to continue assistance to the new Sudanese government," he said.

"This is only the beginning of the long road to stability, security, and democratic governance in Sudan," Barkin stressed. "There must also be follow through."

Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Omer Mohamed Siddig thanked the council for maintaining the peacekeeping mission.

"The government of Sudan is aware of the scope of the responsibility and the challenges it faces as it tries to normalize life in conflict areas and to mitigate the social and economic consequences of the conflict," he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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