KHARTOUM: The United Nations and African Union have ended a 13-year mission to maintain peace in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Fighting erupted in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, which responded by recruiting and arming a militia called Janjaweed. According to the United Nations, a total of 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced,
“The peacekeeping mission ended on Thursday December 31 at midnight in Darfur,” UNAMID’s spokesman Ashraf Eissa said. “As of 1 January 2021, UNAMID’s troops and police personnel will focus on providing security for the mission’s drawdown activities, personnel, and assets.”
He said the phased withdrawal of the mission’s approximately 8,000 armed and civilian personnel will be completed inside six months. The Sudanese government will take over responsibility for the protection of civilians in the area.
Darfur’s bitter conflict has largely subsided in recent years and longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir was deposed last year. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and other alleged crimes in the western region.
A UN political mission — the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) — will be installed in Darfur after UNAMID’s departure. It will be tasked with assisting Sudan’s transition, peace-building, and aid disbursement.
However, the country’s transitional government is fragile, and ethnic and tribal clashes still periodically flare, including clashes last week that left at least 15 people dead and dozens wounded. Following last week’s clashes, Sudanese authorities said government troops will be deployed to the region to contain any violence.
On Thursday, acting foreign minister Omar Qamareddine said UNAMID contributed to achieving peace. “It’s true that its tenure was marred by some obstacles but it was, overall, good,” the minister told a press conference, adding that the deployment of government troops across the region will be completed by March.
Thousands of Janjaweed militiamen were incorporated into Sudan’s powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, whose head Mohamed Hamdan Daglo is a key figure in the transitional government.
The Janjaweed are accused by human rights groups of carrying out widespread killings and rapes as part of a broader campaign of ethnic cleansing in the early years of the conflict. Bashir was deposed by the army in April last year following unprecedented mass protests against his iron-fisted rule.
In August 2019, the military rulers who ousted him agreed on a precarious power-sharing transition with civilians. The transition government has pushed to build peace with rebel groups in all three of Sudan’s main conflict zones including Darfur.