ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The United Nations is considering cutting back its peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region as violence dwindles almost ten years into the conflict, a senior official said on Wednesday.
Any scaling down of the force of 28,000 soldiers and police is likely to be highly unpopular among many international activists who have continued to accuse the Sudan of carrying out war crimes against civilians in the region - allegations denied by Khartoum.
The United Nations teamed up with the African Union to deploy the world’s largest peacekeeping mission - UNAMID - in the arid western territory after fierce fighting erupted there in 2003 and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
“(There’s) much less organised violence and we have to take account of this new situation and we will do that by making it so that UNAMID will be made more agile, more responsive, more mobile both in terms of personnel and enablers,” U.N. Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous told reporters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa .
“Subject to the decisions of the secretary general and the security council we are looking at the reduction of the volume of UNAMID over the next 18 months,” he said after a meeting with African Union and other officials.
Ladsous said the proposal would be discussed by U.N. Security Council members in the next few weeks.
Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing authorities of leaving Darfur underdeveloped and discriminating against their tribes.
Khartoum mobilized troops and allied Arab militias to quell the rebellion, unleashing a wave of violence that Washington and some activists said amounted to genocide. Estimates of the death count have varied wildly.
The International criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and other officials to face charges of masterminding atrocities in the region. None have faced trial in the global court in The Hague.
Violence has ebbed from the 2003-04 peak but international efforts to broker a peace have failed to end the conflict. Sudan’s government signed a Qatar-sponsored peace deal with an umbrella organisation of smaller rebel groups last year, but the major factions refused to join.
Instead, the major factions announced an alliance with insurgents in two Sudanese states, aiming to topple the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.