World

UN votes to sharply reduce peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday sharply reducing the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan's troubled Darfur region, a move pressed by the United States that will save hundreds of millions of dollars.

The British-drafted resolution will reduce the number of peacekeepers by 44 percent and the number of international police by about 27 percent in the Darfur mission, whose current budget is over $1 billion annually.

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when ethnic Africans in the vast western region 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. The U.N.-AU force was established in 2007 with a mandate to help protect civilians in Darfur.

A recent review of the force found that over the past three years the conflict in Darfur "has markedly changed" as the result of a successful government military campaign that reduced the rebellion to "a small presence" of rebel Sudan Liberation Army forces loyal to founder Abdul Wahid Elnur in western Jebel Marra.

Sudan's government, stressing the reduction in fighting, has called for the Darfur mission, known as UNAMID, to be wrapped up. The United States has been pushing for major cuts to the United Nations' nearly $8 billion annual budget for its far-flung peacekeeping operations. UNAMID, with its hefty annual cost, has been a top target.

The resolution adopted Thursday welcomes the reduction of military confrontations between government forces and rebel groups and demands an immediate halt to all violence, including inter-communal conflicts, criminality and banditry.

It expresses serious concern at "the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur" and attacks on aid workers and facilities and condemns increased human rights violations and abuses in Darfur. These include "extrajudicial killings, the excessive use of force, abduction of civilians, acts of sexual and gender-based violence, violations and abuses against children, and arbitrary arrests and detentions," the council said.

The resolution extends UNAMID's mandate until June 30, 2018, and reaffirms its priorities of protecting civilians, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid, and mediating between the government and the remaining rebel movements.

It authorizes an initial cut immediately in the number of peacekeepers from the current ceiling of 15,845 military personnel to 11,395 and a reduction in the number of international police from the current ceiling of 3,403 to 2,888.

The resolution authorizes a further reduction in UNAMID from next Jan. 31, lowering its ceiling to 8,735 military personnel and 2,500 police. It said this cut should take into account a U.N.-AU assessment to be completed by Jan. 1 and include the impact of the initial reductions on the protection of civilians, human rights violations and abuses, and humanitarian access.

While the resolution welcomes progress toward peace in Darfur, it underlines the need to keep the situation in the region under review.

It asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report to the Security Council every 60 days, including on the political, humanitarian and security situation in Darfur and progress in addressing "the underlying drivers of inter-communal conflict."