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UNAMID, World's Largest Peacekeeping Mission, Faces Cuts

Jordanian peacekeepers of the United Nations African Mission In Darfur, UNAMID, patrol the refugee camp of Abou Shouk at the outskirts of the Darfur town of el Fasher, Sudan (File Photo)

The United Nations and the African Union are reducing the size of their hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID. Conditions in the western Sudanese region are said to be improving, even as tensions flare along the Sudan/South Sudan border.

Sudan, the African Union and the United Nations Wednesday agreed to reduce the UNAMID force. With its authorized force of 28,000, the Darfur mission is currently the largest peacekeeping operation in the world.

It was not immediately clear how large the cutback will be. Officials say that decision will be made by the UN Security Council over the next few weeks.

AU Political Commissioner Julia Dolly Joiner said the cuts reflect improved security conditions that are prompting Darfur's refugees and internally displaced people to return home.

"There has been significant progress in the peace process in Darfur, which is evident in an increase in voluntary returns of IDPs and refugees back to their places of origin," said Joiner.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous noted a marked decrease in the organized violence that raged in Darfur from the outbreak of civil war in 2003 through early 2005. But he said rising crime rates in the region had increased the need for a new type of force capable of rapid reaction.

"Certainly there is an increase in common criminality and that is a threat to the safety of civilians, which is one of the main concerns, but much less organized violence, and we have to account of this new situation and we will do that by making it so that UNAMID will be made more agile, more responsive, more mobile," said Ladsous.

Ladsous said the force reduction would be accomplished over an 18 month period.

News of the improvement in Darfur came as officials from Sudan and South Sudan are due to meet in Addis Ababa to avert an all out war following days of airstrikes and border clashes. The African Union expressed deep concern Wednesday at what it called an “escalating security situation” along the border, and called on both sides to pull back 10 kilometers from the disputed frontier.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week said the Khartoum government bore the brunt of the responsibility for the renewed hostilities.