A UN peace mission in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region has been extended in spite of objections from Khartoum. British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said 2014 saw "the worst suffering in the last 10 years" in the region.
The United Nations Security Council on Monday extended a $1.1 billion (980 million euro) peacekeeping operation in Sudan's western region of Darfur for another year, despite calls from Sudanese officials for the peacekeepers to leave.
The mission is designed to protect civilians and ensure aid delivery in Darfur, a restive region that was plunged into conflict in 2003 after mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the nation's Arab-led government, charging it with discrimination. In 2007, a joint UN-African Union Mission (UNAMID) was launched in the wake of the resulting humanitarian crisis.
The government of Sudan had asked UNAMID to leave late last year after repeated attempts by the peacekeeping mission to investigate a mass rape allegedly committed by Sudanese soldiers in the Darfur town of Tabit. Khartoum rejects those accusations.
The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that any withdrawal of peacekeeping forces would be measured against benchmarks and contingent on conditions on the ground.
"Now is not the time to cut and run. Sudan has the greatest number of internally displaced people in Africa. And 2014 saw the worst level of suffering in the last 10 years," British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said Monday.
Security Council officials expressed grave concern over the deteriorating security situation in Darfur and the recent escalation of fighting between government forces and rebel opposition groups.
Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been accused of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court
"UNAMID must continue to give priority in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources to the protection of civilians ... and ensuring safe, timely and unhindered humanitarian access," the council resolution said.
According to UN figures, upwards of 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict in the last 10 years, with an additional 2.5 million displaced. The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on genocide and war crimes charges.
"Sadly, given the very high level of violence and very large numbers of displaced, UNAMID's presence is needed now more than ever," US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the council.
Sudan's Deputy Ambassador to the UN Hassan Hamid Hassan said he was committed to working with UN peacekeepers, but rejected claims Darfur was overtaken by warfare, saying such charges were "completely wrong." He also claimed there were several areas in the region that were now stable and where peacekeeping troops could be removed.
bw/jr (Reuters, AFP)