UN freezes decrease of Sudan peace mission

The UN Security Council on Thursday agreed on a four-month pause in the drawdown of a peacekeeping mission from Sudan’s Darfur region as leaders in Khartoum press on with difficult talks on a political transition.

The council unanimously voted to renew the mandate of the UN-African Union mission known as Unamid until October 31, overcoming reservations from China and Russia.

China, Sudan’s major trading partner, has long supported Khartoum’s view that the conflict in Darfur was winding down and that peacekeepers were no longer needed.

The council last year agreed to push ahead with a series of phased drawdowns with a view to shutting down the mission in 2020.

Deployed in 2007, Unamid now has about 7 200 troops and police, down from the 16 000 sent to Darfur at the height of the conflict.

British Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen said the four-month pause was the “right decision” as it “recognises that Darfur is affected by wider instability in Sudan and that there is a need for continued protection of civilians in Darfur.”

Britain said the United Nations and the African Union needed a “legitimate partner” to discuss the future of the Unamid mission.

Sudan has been led by a military council since generals ousted leader Omar al-Bashir on April 11 after months of nationwide protests against his three-decade rule.

Ethiopia, which is mediating talks between Sudan’s generals and protest leaders, has proposed the formation of a new 15-member civilian-majority governing body, but the military council has rejected the proposal.

Darfur rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government in 2003, triggering a conflict that has left more than 300 000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced.