Cash-strapped AU peacekeepers to quit Darfur

The poorly equipped African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur is set to quit the troubled western Sudanese region by end of September due to a lack of funds, the AU’s security organ said on Tuesday.

“Whatever happens, our mandate ends on September 31 unless there are new developments,” South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said after chairing an AU Peace and Security Council meeting ahead of a weekend summit of heads of state.

“Even if we wanted to continue, we don’t have the finances to continue beyond the date we have set ... unless [there is] a new development, which would mean there would be support for that [extension] from the United Nations,” she told reporters.

Sudan has consistently opposed a handover of peacekeeping duties in Darfur to an international force, but has of late shown readiness to discuss the issue since reaching a peace agreement with the main rebel group last month.

However, President Omar al-Beshir was quoted as saying on Sunday that Sudanese troops were ready to take over from the AU force, in what was seen as a fresh rebuff to UN plans to deploy its own force.

Al-Beshir has repeatedly warned he will turn Darfur into “a graveyard” for Western troops, accusing the West of seeking to “recolonise Sudan”.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan this month said that Darfur needed UN peacekeepers despite al-Beshir’s opposition.

Dlamini-Zuma said the AU would be “willing to review” its departure date from Darfur if there were new developments in Sudanese-UN discussions for a transfer of the operation to the world body.

“Maybe if the UN says it would need a little bit more time to come in, then we can review that,” she said.

The world body wants to replace the cash-strapped, poorly equipped 7 000-strong AU contingent, which has attempted in vain to maintain peace in Darfur over the past two years.

The UN stresses that the deployment of a strong peacekeeping contingent in Darfur is critical to the success of a peace agreement agreed on May 5.

Decades of tribal fighting in Darfur—an arid desert region the size of France—erupted into all-out violence in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms, accusing the Arab government in Khartoum of neglect and calling for autonomy.

In response, the regime unleashed its Janjaweed proxies on Darfur’s largely black population. The combined effect of war and famine has killed about 300 000 Darfuris and displaced 2,4-million.

The global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday called on international donors to give more to the AU Mission in Sudan, for the AU to contribute more troops to protect civilians and for African leaders to put pressure on Khartoum.

“African leaders should tell Khartoum to accept a UN force. The AU has transferred to UN forces in Burundi and elsewhere in Africa; why should Sudan be different?” said HRW director Peter Takirambudde.

AU leaders meet at an upcoming weekend summit.

Dlamini-Zuma said the AU’s Security Council also discussed how to deal with individuals who seek to undermine the Abuja peace agreement signed in May by Sudan and Darfur’s biggest rebel group, the main faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement.

“Those who actually undermine the agreement, we must take certain measures such as a ban on travel and look at assets,” she said.—Sapa-AFP

Susan Njanji

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