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UN Considers Drawdown of Darfur Mission

FILE - A man rides his donkey past Tanzanian UNAMID troops standing guard at a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Khor Abeche, South Darfur, Sudan.

A senior U.N. official said Tuesday the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region has not improved over the past year and continuing violence has displaced people at the highest rate since the crisis peaked in 2004. It is against this backdrop that the U.N. Security Council must decide the future of one of its biggest peacekeeping missions.

Nearly 16,000 peacekeepers and police form the U.N.- African Union hybrid mission known as UNAMID. The mission keeps watch over the massive Darfur region, where rebels have been fighting the Sudanese government for 12 years.

At a cost of over $1.1 billion a year to run, UNAMID is consuming a huge amount of resources, but by the U.N.’s own assessment, is falling short of fulfilling its mandate of protecting civilians and stabilizing Darfur.

The government of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir - himself wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity committed in Darfur - has undermined the mission, restricting movement of patrols and access of humanitarian workers. Armed groups have also presented challenges, and the mission also has problems from within, working with often poorly equipped and trained soldiers.

Some suggest that al-Bashir, who is running for re-election this year, is just posturing and doesn't really want to lose the benefits of the more than $1.1 billion-a-year peacekeeping mission. But last year he ordered the expulsion of top U.N. officials and the closure of the mission's human rights office in the capital, Khartoum, and called for an "exit strategy'' for the joint U.N.-African Union force, which numbers more than 20,000.

While trying to carry out their mission, UNAMID personnel have been threatened, harassed, abducted and attacked. Since the force was deployed in 2007, 215 peacekeepers have been killed.

Adding to the tension was the mass rape of more than 220 women in a Darfur village last October by Sudanese army troops. UNAMID has been blocked from entering the village after a brief and inconclusive visit shortly after reports of the mass rape emerged.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous told the Security Council Tuesday that there has been no tangible progress toward resolution of the conflict. He said the security and humanitarian situations have deteriorated significantly over the past year as fighting between Sudanese government forces and armed groups has risen.

“We estimate that it is no less than 450,000 people that were displaced over the year as a result of the violence, which is the highest volume in any single year since the peak of the conflict in 2004," said Ladsous.

He said of the newly displaced, at least 300,000 remain homeless, most in camps, bringing to more than 2.5 million the overall number of displaced Darfuris.

Meanwhile, the government of Sudan has asked the U.N. and African Union to begin developing an exit strategy for the mission.

Ladsous said discussions began Tuesday among the parties to draw up a “road map” for UNAMID’s gradual drawdown.

“We have presently in Khartoum a team to start a working group which will look at the process for the exit of UNAMID - eventually. But of course all that has to be the subject of benchmarks and appropriate attention, because there is still a lot of work to be done inside Darfur," he said.

The working group is expected to complete the road map by April, after which the Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council will consider its recommendations.

Some information for this report came from AP.