As the UN Security Council begins talks next month on renewing its mission in Darfur for another year, Sudan has stepped up pressure for a complete exit of international peacekeepers from the war-torn region.
About 20,000 troops and policemen from more than 30 countries are currently in Sudan’s western region of Darfur as part of the African Union-United Nations mission, UNAMID.
Deployed in 2007, UNAMID has a mandate to curb violence in Darfur, a region the size of France.
Deadly conflict there since 2003 has left tens of thousands of civilians dead.
Khartoum insists that unrest in Darfur has now ended, and that a referendum held there in April was a clear example of security returning to the war-scarred region.
“It’s time to say goodbye to the UNAMID mission,” Sudan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Kamal Ismail said last week in Khartoum.
“This mission came to protect civilians, but now there is no danger to civilians, there is no conflict in Darfur.”
Violence erupted in Darfur when ethnic minority rebels rose against President Omar al-Bashir, accusing his Arab-dominated government of marginalising the region.
Bashir mounted a brutal counter-insurgency and at least 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict, the UN says. Another 2.5 million have fled their homes.
Khartoum says last month’s referendum “turned a page” on Darfur’s crisis, with almost 98 percent of voters opting to maintain the region as five separate states.
The referendum was boycotted by the opposition and criticised internationally.
Darfur was a single region until 1994 when the government split it into three states, and later added another two in 2012, claiming it would make local government more efficient.
Ismail said Khartoum is negotiating through a task force with concerned UNAMID groups to reach a time frame for the mission’s exit.
Officials said some UNAMID member countries have also expressed a desire to exit or cut troop numbers in the mission.