UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. special envoy for Sudan who was declared unwelcome by the country's military rulers resigned Wednesday in a final speech to the U.N. Security Council, warning that the conflict between Sudan's rival military leaders "could be morphing into a full-scale civil war."
Volker Perthes, who had continued to work outside Sudan, said the fighting shows no sign of abating, with neither side appearing close to "a decisive military victory." He also said the violence in Sudan's western Darfur region "has worsened dramatically," with civilians being targeted based on their ethnicity.
Tensions between Sudan's military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, burst into open fighting in mid-April.
At least 5,000 people have been killed since then and over 12,000 wounded, Perthes said, while calling the figures conservative and saying the actual number "is likely much higher."
The envoy said there were at least 13 mass graves in and around Geneina, the capital of West Darfur's province, according to credible reports the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office received. The graves were a result of attacks by the RSF and their allied Arab militias on civilians, mostly African communities, Perthes said.
The western Darfur region was the scene of a genocidal campaign in the early 2000s.
More than 20 million people -- almost half Sudan's population -- are experiencing acute hunger and food insecurity, the U.N. humanitarian office's operations director, Edem Wosornu, told the council.
"And more than 6 million people are now just one step away from famine," she said. "If the fighting continues, this potential tragedy comes closer to reality every day."
The fighting has forced 4.1 million people to flee their homes to other places in Sudan and more than 1 million to seek refuge in neighboring countries, Wosornu said, stressing that displacement and insecurity "have driven cases of sexual violence to distressing levels."
Perthes was a key mediator after the conflict began, but the military government claimed he was biased and informed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on June 8 that he was declared persona non grata.
The U.N. denounced the move, saying that a member of its personnel cannot be declared persona non grata -- unacceptable to the government -- and that this goes against the U.N. Charter.
In announcing his resignation, Perthes, who was appointed as special representative for Sudan in January 2021, urged the warring sides to end the fighting and warned them "they cannot operate with impunity."
"There will be accountability for the crimes committed," he said.
Guterres told a news conference that he had accepted Perthes' resignation, saying, without elaborating, that the envoy "has very strong reasons to resign."
Perthes also warned of "the risk of a fragmentation of the country," pointing to a myriad of compounding crisis, including Darfur, the cross-border mobilization of Arab tribes, fighting in the country's South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces between the Sudanese military and rebels, and rising tensions in eastern Sudan amid ongoing tribal mobilization.
He also added -- referring to Sudan's longtime autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir who was deposed in a popular uprising in 2019 -- that "the mobilization by former regime elements advocating for a continuation of the war is of particular concern."
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield sharply criticized Sudan's military leaders for threatening to end the U.N. political mission in Sudan known as UNITAMS if Perthes addressed the Security Council, calling the threats "unacceptable" and declaring that "No country should be allowed to threaten this council's ability to carry out its responsibilities for peace and security."
In a highly unusual procedure aimed at trying to maintain the U.N. mission, the council meeting started with a briefing by Ghana's ambassador who chairs the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Sudan, and Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Al-Harith Mohamed was then given the floor.
He claimed the government "is in control of the political and security initiatives and is communicating with all regional players and international terrorist in order to end the war," and is receiving "the full support of the Sudanese people who categorically reject the presence of the Rapid Support Forces."
He urged the Security Council and the international community to support the government, accusing the Rapid Support Forces and their militias summoning "killers and mercenaries" to destroy the country. "The international community must not allow for a new generation of terrorists against the state who who transform (it) into Frankenstein," he said.
Albania's U.N. Ambassador Ferit Hoxha then gaveled that council meeting to an end and after the Sudanese ambassador left, he gaveled the start of a new meeting on the secretary-general's lateat report on Sudan, which opened with the briefing by Perthes.
Thomas-Greenfield told Perthes the United States regrets his departure.
Perthes made no mention of his next steps. A former German academic with extensive background in international relations, Perthes served as chief executive officer and director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs from 2005 to September 2020. From 2015 to 2018, he served as a U.N. assistant secretary-general and senior adviser to U.N. special envoy for Syria.