UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council extended on Tuesday the mandate of the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan’s conflict-torn western Darfur region, though Khartoum criticized the move for urging the troops to help capture a fugitive Ugandan warlord.
The 15-nation council passed a British-drafted resolution extending the peacekeepers’ mandate for another 12 months to July 31, 2013, with 14 votes in favor and none against.
An envoy from Azerbaijan abstained from the vote, saying that his nation supported the force but had reservations about the text.
The resolution also reduced the maximum number of peacekeepers in the U.N.-African Union force, known as UNAMID, to 16,200 military personnel and 2,310 police personnel, down from 19,555 military and 3,772 in last year’s resolution.
While most peacekeeping mandate renewals are routine, the inclusion of language on the Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army in the draft resolution on UNAMID irritated several council members, including veto powers Russia and China, council diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
The resolution says the council “encourages UNAMID, within existing capacities and consistent with its mandate, to co-operate and share information” on the group, led by Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face war crimes charges.
Khartoum’s U.N. ambassador, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, complained that the reference to Kony’s group, which has been circulating within Uganda, Central African Republic and South Sudan, was unwarranted.
“The LRA is known, it’s a rebel group, a terrorist group which Sudan condemns,” he said. “We do not find any logic in linking UNAMID with the LRA.”
Earlier this year, a senior U.N. official said Kony may have slipped into Darfur.
Kony has evaded the region’s militaries for nearly three decades, kidnapping tens of thousands of children to fill the ranks of his Lord’s Resistance Army and serve as sex slaves as he moves through the bush. Thousands have been killed by his brutal army.
Kony was thrust back into the spotlight earlier this year when a video, “Kony 2012”, highlighting the chilling mutilations, rapes and murders carried out by his spell-bound fighters went viral on the Internet.
The AU is putting together a U.S.-backed special force of 5,000 troops from Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic (CAR) with the aim of hunting down Kony later this year.
The UNAMID resolution also expressed the council’s concern at the continued violence in Darfur, the scene of a rebellion by non-Arab tribes against the Arab government in Khartoum, which they accuse of political and economic marginalization.
The rebels took up arms in 2003, and a year later the government sent troops and allied Arab tribes to quell the insurgency, unleashing a wave of violence that the United Nations estimates has killed as many as 300,000 people. Khartoum puts the number of dead at 10,000.
The level of violence has subsided, but continuing fighting and widespread banditry have hampered peace efforts.
Highlighting the persistent insecurity in Darfur, six protesters were killed during an anti-government protest there on Tuesday, a local government official said.