Authorities in war-hit Sudan have declared the head of the United Nations mission in the country, Volker Perthes, “persona non grata” two weeks after the army chief accused him of inflaming the conflict and called for his removal.
“The Government of the Republic of Sudan has notified the Secretary-General of the United Nations that it has declared Mr Volker Perthes … persona non grata as of today,” Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday.
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Sources at the ministry told Al Jazeera that the mission itself will be allowed to continue its work.
“Some of their staff [are] in the port city of Port Sudan, where most of the mission were evacuated to following the fighting that broke out in mid-April between the Rapid Support Forces [RSF, a paramilitary group] and the Sudanese army,” said Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Omdurman, a city across the Nile from the capital, Khartoum.
The United Nations responded later on Friday, saying that UN personnel cannot be made persona non grata.
“The Secretary General recalls that the doctrine of persona non grata is not applicable to or in respect of United Nations personnel and its invocation is contrary to the obligations of states under the Charter of the United Nations,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
He added that Perthes is currently in Addis Ababa.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said late last month that he was “shocked” by the letter from Sudanese army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan blaming Perthes for exacerbating fighting between the army and the RSF, led by commander Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo.
“[Guterres] is proud of the work done by Volker Perthes and reaffirms his full confidence in his special representative,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement at the time. There was no immediate UN reaction to the foreign ministry’s declaration.
SRSG for Sudan @volkerperthes had several meetings today in Addis Ababa.
He met @parfait_onanga, UN Special Representative to the African Union, and @ismail_wais , IGAD special envoy.
He also gave a diplomatic briefing hosted by@UKinEthiopia. pic.twitter.com/U9mM1jJcpS
— UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission Sudan (@UNITAMS) June 8, 2023
Perthes, a former academic, has headed the Sudan mission since 2021, first during the country’s failed attempts to transition to democracy and then as relations between the military and the RSF deteriorated.
The German diplomat has staunchly defended the UN against accusations of stoking the conflict, saying those responsible are “the two generals at war”.
In his letter to Guterres, al-Burhan accused Perthes of bias and of not respecting “national sovereignty”. He also alleged Perthes presented a misleading picture “of consensus” in his reports to the UN and, “without these signs of encouragement”, Hemedti “would not have launched his military operations”.
The warring sides have blamed each other for provoking the violence.
Entire districts of Khartoum no longer have running water, electricity is only available for a few hours each week and three-quarters of the hospitals in combat zones are not functioning.
More than 1.4 million people have been displaced within Sudan and a further 476,800 have fled to neighbouring countries, most of which are already struggling with poverty and internal conflict, according to estimates from the International Organization for Migration.
Sudan’s health ministry has recorded at least 780 civilian deaths as a direct result of the fighting. Hundreds more have been killed in the city of el-Geneina in West Darfur.
The UN has said about 25 million people – more than half of Sudan’s population – are now in need of humanitarian assistance and aid that could help about 2.2 million people has been delivered since late May.
Last week, the precariousness of the UN’s status in Sudan was highlighted when the Security Council voted to extend the mission’s mandate for only six months.
The mission was created in June 2020 to support Sudan’s democratic transition after the fall of ruler Omar al-Bashir a year earlier. Its mandate had previously been renewed annually for a year.