A joint United Nations and African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region will end on Thursday, after more than 13 years of operation.
The UNAMID in a statement on Wednesday said the Sudanese government will take the responsibility of providing security and services to citizens in the region.
“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,” the mission said.
“UNAMID will have a period of six months to undertake the drawdown, which will be conducted in a phased manner,” it said.
Last week, the 15-member Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to terminates the mission, outlining a six-month phased pull-out of troops with a complete withdrawal by June 30.
The mission was deployed in Darfur in 2007 to end a bitter conflict that erupted in the western region in 2003 between government forces and rebel groups.
According to the UN website of the peacekeeping mission, there are currently some 4,000 troops, 480 police advisers, 1,631 police, 483 international civilian staff and 945 national civilian staff on the ground.
Conflict spread in Sudan’s western Darfur region from 2003 after mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum. Government forces and mainly Arab militia that moved to repress the revolt were accused of widespread atrocities. An estimated 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced.
Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was deposed by the military in April 2019 after months of protests against poor economic conditions and al-Bashir’s authoritarian, 30-year rule.
A transitional government was formed under a three-year power-sharing agreement between the military and civilian groups that is meant to lead to free and fair elections.
In June, the Security Council established a UN political mission to assist Sudan’s political transition, support the peace processes, aid peace-building, civilian protection and rule of law, in particular in Darfur and help coordinate humanitarian aid and development assistance.
Many Darfuri residents say UNAMID has not effectively protected them, but they fear its withdrawal will leave them more vulnerable and have staged protests in recent weeks.
On Sunday, thousands of displaced people in the region protested against the UN decision to end the UNAMID mandate. The protesters, mostly displaced women and children, want the peacekeepers to stay.
Adam Regal, a spokesman for a local organisation that helps run refugee camps in Darfur, told the Associated Press news agency that the UNAMID exit would create a “security vacuum” in a region with several active militia groups.
In October, Sudan’s transitional authorities finalised a peace deal with some rebel groups from Darfur. But the agreement excluded the group that has been most active on the ground.
Earlier this week, tribal clashes in the troubled region killed at least 15 people, forcing authorities to deploy more troops, the state-run news agency reported.
The unrest poses a challenge to authorities in the capital, Khartoum, who are trying to end the country’s long-running rebellions as part of a fragile transition to democracy.