U.N. Peacekeeping Chief Hervé Ladsous is recommending that the organization drawdown its U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in the Darfur region of Sudan by more than 4,000 troops and police in the coming months. Ladsous said Thursday that improvements on the ground justify the move.
The reduction in force to the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping force would save more $76 million in the first year alone. The hybrid mission, known as UNAMID, is composed of more than 24,000 troops, police and civilians from more than 40 countries. It costs the United Nations more than $1.5 billion a year.
Ladsous told the U.N. Security Council the reductions would be completed over 18 months and that the remaining personnel would be reconfigured and redeployed.
He said military personnel would be cut by more than 3,200 troops, including 1,600 foot soldiers.
“The proposed reduction in infantry is due mainly to improvements in security along the border between Chad and Darfur, and in far northern Darfur following rapprochements between Sudan and Chad, and between Sudan and Libya,” said Ladsous.
Ladsous said some of the peacekeepers would be redeployed from areas where security threat levels have decreased to potential flash points. He said this mainly corresponds to a heavily populated region that runs east to west through the center of Darfur - from its border with Chad to the border with Southern Kordofan state.
Ladsous also noted that the threats are changing from armed conflict-related incidents to violent crimes, particularly in urban areas and camps for displaced persons. He said that although police numbers would be reduced by around 800 officers, they would be reconfigured and redeployed to areas where they are most needed, improving their patrolling capacity.
South Africa’s Ambassador Baso Sangqu told reporters that any reductions to UNAMID would need to be discussed with the African Union and carefully considered.
“You don’t want to create a situation where you withdraw forces which have contributed in calming the situation and then you have a backlash. So we are only saying that there must be a very considerate process of determining the risks,” said Sangqu.
Sangqu cautioned that Darfur must be considered in the context of Sudan as a whole. He noted the recent escalation in fighting between Sudan and South Sudan, and said it is too early to tell how that might affect the situation in Darfur.
U.S Ambassador Susan Rice, who holds the Security Council’s presidency this month, told reporters she did not hear any strong opposition from council members to the secretariat’s reduction proposals.
“I did not hear a great deal - maybe one or two countries raised some questions about the proposed reconfiguration, but I did not sense any broad-based concern or skepticism. But we will come back to this in detail as we do the mandate renewal,” said Rice.
Sudan’s ambassador welcomed the proposed reductions, saying it is evidence that the peace process between the government and Darfur is is working.
The U.N. Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council hold annual consultations, usually in May or June, when they could discuss the issue.
UNAMID’s mandate comes up for renewal in July. The mission was authorized in 2008 to help protect civilians in Darfur, where the United Nations says more 300,000 people have died and another 2.7 million have been displaced since the conflict began in 2003.