UNITED NATIONS – The Security Council on Monday unanimously approved a one-year extension of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan's western Darfur region where conflict is intensifying, rejecting the Sudanese government's demand that the troops leave.
A resolution adopted by the U.N.'s most powerful body keeps the size of the force the same — 15,845 military personnel and 3,403 international police. It orders the troops to concentrate on protecting civilians, ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid, mediating conflicts and supporting a peace process.
The council condemned increased human rights violations and expressed deep concern at the escalating fighting between government and rebel forces and the serious deterioration of the security situation in Darfur so far this year. It demanded that all parties in Darfur immediately stop fighting and called for "an urgent end to inter-tribal clashes, criminality and banditry."
Darfur has been in turmoil since 2003, when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. Rights groups charge the regime retaliated by unleashing Arab militias on civilians, a claim the government denies.
Sudan ordered the peacekeeping force known as UNAMID out of Darfur late last year.
The resolution said UNAMID's future depends on meeting a set of benchmarks including progress toward a negotiated political settlement, a commitment by all parties to implement a cease-fire, protection of civilians and progress to prevent or reduce community conflicts through mediation.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said that given the very high level of violence and the more than 2.5 million Darfuris who are displaced, the U.N. force "is needed now more than ever."
Even though the displacement in Darfur last year was the highest in 10 years, Power said the conflict has dropped out of the global spotlight. She urged that greater international attention be paid to Darfur where 4.4 million people eed humanitarian aid.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft stressed that "now is not the time to cut and run."
"We are aware that there have been calls for the mission to exit, including from West Darfur," Rycroft said. "But this resolution makes clear that given the worsening security situation and the lack of progress on the benchmarks, UNAMID cannot yet leave any part of Darfur."
Sudan's Deputy Ambassador Hassan Hamid Hassan demanded that a working group examining an exit strategy for UNAMID immediately resume work.
"They claim Darfur now experiences open warfare," Hassan said. "This is completely wrong. There are tribal clashes in certain regions."
Later Monday, Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, accused the Security Council of failing to respond to 10 requests from the tribunal for action against individuals that failed to cooperate, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for alleged war crimes in Darfur.