End of the peace mission: UN blue helmets withdraw from Darfur

Today the peace mission in Darfur ends. International troops have been in the region since 2007 to end a brutal conflict. The violence of that time has almost been forgotten in this country – but the withdrawal causes great concern on site.

The United Nations (UN) ended its peacekeeping mission in the Sudanese troubled region of Darfur (Unamid) at midnight. This means that the “responsibility for protecting civilians” is transferred to the government of Sudan, according to a Unamid statement. The joint mission of the UN and the African Union (AU) was active in Darfur for 13 years.

The UN Security Council had agreed to suspend the mission on December 31 just over a week ago after the Sudanese interim government asked for it and after rebel groups and the government signed a peace agreement in early October. The United Nations and the African Union had also spoken out in favor of this step.

According to the resolution, the withdrawal of personnel and equipment is to begin on Friday. It should be completed on June 30, 2021.

Militias brutalized civilians

At the height of the Unamid mission, 16,000 blue helmets were stationed in Darfur, now there are still around 8,000 UN soldiers. In 2003, a bloody conflict between rebel groups and the army under the then President Omar al-Bashir broke out in the region in western Sudan, in which, according to UN estimates, around 300,000 people were killed. 2.5 million people have been displaced.

“Genocide, the burning of entire settlements, rape of women and underage girls, plus all the ugly things that happened in the refugee camps,” Musa Adam, who lives in a refugee camp in southern Darfur, summed up the war in Darfur to the AFP news agency together.

The conflict in the region had been simmering for some time. At that time, water was becoming increasingly scarce, as was the grazing land. Arab nomads fought with settled farmers over resources. When the non-Arab Darfuris finally rose up, the government used Arab militias against them, supported by the army and air force.

The militia included the feared Janjaweed riders, who were particularly brutal against civilians. In 2009 and 2010, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued two arrest warrants against al-Bashir, including for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.

Transitional government concludes peace agreement

After the president was overthrown in April 2019, a peaceful solution suddenly seemed possible. Abdalla Hamdok, the new Prime Minister, visited Darfur in late 2019 and spoke at a rally. “Let’s create peace in Darfur together,” he said at the time. “We have listened carefully to your representatives and I promise you that the interim government will take your demands seriously.”

Almost three months ago, the interim government and several Sudanese rebel groups – including those from Darfur – finally signed a peace agreement. The agreement will be implemented in all points, the war is over, assured Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Army General and chairman of the so-called Sovereign Council of the country after the signing. For this reason, among other reasons, the United Nations Security Council decided not to extend the peacekeeping mission.

Worry about the security vacuum

However, not everyone welcomes the end of the blue helmet mission. Many residents of the region fear a resurgence of violence after the Unamid withdrawal. The human rights organization Amnesty International warned of a security vacuum in Darfur. In front of the headquarters of the UN mission in Nyala, people demonstrated against the withdrawal of the blue helmets.

For some years now, Darfur has been relatively calm. In recent weeks, however, there have been repeated skirmishes and violent clashes between hostile groups and between Arab nomads and farmers, most recently in the south of the region a few days ago. At least 15 people were killed.

In addition, not all rebel groups have signed the agreement. The transitional government wants to ensure security, but the people in Darfur are very distrustful.

With information from J├╝rgen Stryjak, ARD-Studio Cairo, currently. Berlin

Deutschlandfunk reported on this topic on December 31, 2020 at 5:22 p.m.

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