A United Nations political mission in war-racked Sudan will end on Sunday after the UN Security Council voted to shut it down following a request from Sudanese authorities last month.
Fourteen of the council’s 15 members adopted Friday’s resolution to end the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), while Russia abstained.
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Starting Monday, a three-month transition period will begin to allow for the departure of UNITAMS personnel and the transfer of its tasks to other UN agencies “where appropriate and to the extent feasible”.
While they voted in favour of the resolution, UN ambassadors from the United States and United Kingdom expressed dismay over the decision.
“Let me be clear, the United Kingdom would not have chosen to close UNITAMS at this moment,” said Britain’s deputy UN envoy James Kariuki, whose country drafted the resolution.
US envoy Robert Wood said: “We are gravely concerned that a reduced international presence in Sudan will only serve to embolden the perpetrators of atrocities with dire consequences for civilians.”
In the text, the council expressed “alarm at the continued violence and humanitarian situation, in particular violations of international humanitarian law and grave human rights violations and abuses” in Sudan.
War erupted on April 15 between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) after weeks of rising tension between the two sides over a plan to integrate forces as part of a transition from military rule to democracy.
Six million people have since been forced from their homes and 25 million need humanitarian help, the UN says.
“We reiterate that the Sudanese authorities remain responsible for the safety and security of UNITAMS staff and assets during this transition and call for their full cooperation in allowing an orderly withdrawal,” Britain’s Kariuki told the council.
The UN mission in Sudan employs 245 people, including 88 in Port Sudan, as well as others in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said last month.
UNITAMS was put in place in 2020 to help support a democratic transition in Sudan following the fall the previous year of President Omar al-Bashir.
But in October 2021, the difficult path to civilian government was cut short, when army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan assumed full powers in a coup.
On April 15, before a deal on resuming the transition to democracy could be signed, fighting erupted between the Sudanese army led by al-Burhan and the RSF, led by General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo.
A few weeks later, al-Burhan demanded that UNITAMS chief Volker Perthes be sacked, placing blame for the violence on his shoulders. The diplomat ultimately stepped down in September, and has not been replaced.
Last month, saying the mission had been “disappointing”, the government in Khartoum demanded its immediate end, leaving the UNSC with virtually no choice but to withdraw, as the UN must operate with the host nation’s consent.
“We affirm the government’s readiness to continue constructive engagement with the UN by strengthening cooperation with a country team,” Dafallah Alhaj, an envoy to Sudan’s al-Burhan, told the council on Friday. He said the delivery of humanitarian aid was a top priority.
UN officials said the world body will keep trying to help the Sudanese people with the continuing presence of various humanitarian agencies. “What is clear and what should be clear to everyone is that the United Nations is not leaving Sudan,” Dujarric told reporters on Thursday.