UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to put the brakes on the withdrawal of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan’s vast western Darfur region as the country deals with a political crisis.
The council approved a resolution to extend the current mandate of the force, known as UNAMID, for four months until October 31.
It asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to provide an update in 60 days on the situation on the ground — and it asks the U.N. and AU to make recommendations by Sept. 30 on what the council should do about continuing the withdrawal.
Last July, the Security Council voted to dramatically cut the UNAMID force in response to reduced fighting and improved security conditions. The target for ending the mission is June 30, 2020.
Britain’s U.N. deputy ambassador Jonathan Allen, whose country co-sponsored the resolution with Germany, said the council made “the responsible decision to pause the withdrawal,” which he said aligns with the decision of the AU Peace and Security Council.
“Moreover, it recognizes that Darfur is affected by wider instability in Sudan and that there is a need for continued protection of civilians in Darfur,” he said.
Sudan’s military ousted former President Omar al-Bashir from power in April amid mass protests against his 30-year rule. The military has since been locked in a tense standoff with the protest movement demanding civilian rule.
Amnesty International said earlier this month that Sudanese security forces have continued to commit “war crimes and other serious human rights violations” in the Darfur region, including the destruction of entire villages, as well as “unlawful killings and sexual violence.”
It blamed paramilitary units, the Rapid Support Forces, which grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias mobilized by al-Bashir during the Darfur conflict which began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination.
Al-Bashir’s government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming the Janjaweed and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge the government denied. In recent years, as the result of a successful government military campaign, the rebellion in Darfur has been reduced, leading to the decision to withdraw UNAMID.
But Britain’s Allen told the council that “in order to resume the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding, we must see progress.”
He singled out the Rapid Support Forces, saying they must withdraw from all former UNAMID team sites so they can be used for civilian purposes, as Sudan’s Transitional Military Council has committed to.
“All of this should take place alongside a transition to a legitimate civilian-led government — a government which is accepted by the people of Sudan and therefore the wider international community,” Allen said.
Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Omer Mohamed Ahmed Siddig objected to the pause in UNAMID’s withdrawal.
He cited council reports affirming that the situation in Darfur “is constantly improving” and said the government is determined to return Darfur to normal life and move from peacekeeping to peacebuilding.
“For this reason we can see no valid reason for peacekeeping forces to remain in Darfur,” Siddig said.