UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- A proposed U.N. Security Council resolution would replace the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan's restive Darfur region with a U.N. political and peace-building mission whose primary aim would be to support Sudan's fragile transition to democracy including in drafting a new constitution and preparing for elections.
The draft resolution, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, would basically eliminate the main mission of the U.N.-AU force known as UNAMID — the protection of civilians in Darfur. That responsibility would be handed over to the transitional government formed last August by the military and civilian protesters following the ouster of the country's longtime autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir.
The proposed resolution would establish "a political, peace support and peace-building mission," to be known as the United Nations Political and Peace-building Integrated Mission in Sudan or UNPPIMS, starting May 1 for an initial period of one year.
It would authorize the deployment of up to 2,500 international police and one battalion for a quick reaction force — usually between 500 and 800 troops — to protect U.N. personnel, facilities and humanitarian workers. The police and troops would also be authorized "to help create a protective environment by protecting civilians being subjected to or under imminent threat of physical violence, particularly in the hot spot areas of the Darfur states" — but the draft stresses that the government has primary responsibility for protecting its people.
The draft resolution largely follows the recommendations in a report to the council earlier this week by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki.
Human Rights Watch criticized the report, saying withdrawing peacekeepers threatens the safety of civilians in Darfur.
Kenneth Roth, its executive director, said the council should recognize "that Darfur requires a far more gradual withdrawal" because "past and ongoing violence there means civilians can't trust Sudanese security forces alone and still look to peacekeepers for protection."
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge it denies.
In recent years, as the result of a successful government military campaign, the rebellion has been reduced to a rebel Sudan Liberation Army faction headed by Abdul Wahid Elnur in Jebel Marra.
There has been pressure, including from the Trump administration, to scale down the UNAMID force, which was established in 2007 and was one of the U.N.'s most expensive operations. In June 2016 it had a ceiling of 15,845 military personnel and 3,403 police.
In July 2018, the Security Council voted to dramatically cut the force in response to reduced fighting and improved security conditions.
The target then was to end the mission in June 30, 2020. But the mass street protests by a pro-democracy movement which began in late 2018 and led to last year's ouster of Al-Bashir caused a delay.
A power-sharing agreement signed in August 2019 between the military and protesters called for the government to reach a peace agreement with armed groups within six months. The military-civilian government, which is facing an economic crisis, has been engaging in peace talks with rebel groups since October, hoping to end the insurgencies in order to slash military spending, which takes up much of the national budget.
The draft resolution would authorize the new U.N. mission, if asked, to support implementation of any future peace agreements including monitoring cease-fires, and supporting disarmament, demobilization and measures promoting accountability and transitional justice, not only in Darfur but also in conflict-wracked Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.
The report by Guterres and Faki said the overall security situation remained unchanged in most parts of Darfur, except West Darfur which experienced a series of violent incidents, though they reported "civil unrest" throughout the vast western region.
According to the report, UNAMID has developed "a drawdown and liquidation plan" that envisages the closure of its 14 bases between April and Oct. 31, the repatriation of military and police personnel, and a significant reduction of its civilian staff. It said this will be followed by administrative and logistical liquidation activities for a period of at least six months.
As of January, UNAMID had over 4,300 military personnel, over 2,100 international police, and about 1,500 civilian staff.
The draft resolution "underlines that a continued strategic and political partnership between the United Nations and the African Union in Sudan remains critical" and calls for close cooperation between UNPPIMS and UNAMID as well as with U.N. missions in South Sudan, Libya and in the disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan.