UN peacekeepers back on course to leave Darfur by next year

Sudan's political transition offers promise for end to conflict, says official

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, speaks during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)
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Sudan's power-sharing agreement has put plans back on course for a total withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from Darfur by next summer, the Security Council heard in New York on Monday.

The phased pullout of the UN mission was put on hold until at least the end of October after clashes broke out during the uprising against longtime dictator Omar Al Bashir, killing an estimated 130 people on June 3.

But Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN undersecretary general for peace operations, said the timeline for a phased withdrawal of peacekeepers by June 2020 could soon be reviewed given political developments in Khartoum.

In a briefing to the council, Mr Lacroix said the end to months of negotiations to steer Sudan away from military rule over the next 39 months was an important development.

He said that after the country's new cabinet was formed, negotiations would begin on issues including the withdrawal of the UN mission.

Mr Lacroix said a plan for the mission, known as Unamid, to move from peacekeeping to peace building was under discussion and he would visit Khartoum for further talks at the start of October.

The UN has had almost 5,600 "blue helmets" in Darfur since 2007 to prevent violence against civilians.

For his part in the conflict, Mr Al Bashir was issued with an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide. He denies the charges.

Plans were in place before June's violence in Khartoum to reduce the UN force to 4,050.

Representatives of Sudan’s protest movement that led the fall of Mr Al Bashir formally signed a power-sharing deal last week with the generals who have governed since April.

The Sudanese cabinet is expected to be sworn in by September 1. Mr Lacroix said that although sporadic violence continues in Darfur and risks to stability remain, the government was expected to hold talks with armed groups in coming months.

Talks with the African Union about the UN's future role are also continuing.

“The transitional arrangements entail a pledge to end all outstanding conflicts in Sudan, which could bring long-term stability to Darfur and other areas,” Mr Lacroix said.

“This is an opportunity to put a definitive end to the conflict in Darfur.”

Omer Siddig, Sudan's permanent representative to the UN, said it was time for the UN mission's role to evolve to building peace.

“My delegation calls on you as members of the Security Council to pave the way for Unamid withdrawal by June 2020 as stipulated and agreed upon,” Mr Siddig said.

“Realisation of peace is my government's priority during the next six months.”

Jonathan Allen, Britain's deputy permanent representative to the UN, said he was pleased that Sudan's transitional government had committed to a fair, comprehensive and sustainable peace.

“We call on all sides, but in particular the armed movements, to engage constructively, immediately and without preconditions in negotiations to finally deliver a peaceful solution to the conflict in Darfur,” Mr Allen said.