The UN Security Council on Friday agreed to further draw down its joint peacekeeping mission with the African Union in Sudan's troubled Darfur region and put in motion steps that could lead to its closure at the end of 2020.
A British-drafted resolution was unanimously adopted at the council to renew until June 2019 the mandate of the UNAMID mission, once among the biggest and costliest of all peace operations.
Sudan has long demanded an exit strategy for UNAMID, which now has about 10,500 troops and police deployed with a mandate to protect civilians caught up in fighting between Sudanese government forces and Darfur rebel groups.
A joint report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the African Commission recommended that the mission begin its exit from Darfur in June 2020 if security improves, with a view to shutting down by the end of December.
The resolution requests that Guterres report to the council every three months on whether Sudan is meeting benchmarks and indicators that would allow the mission's planned exit to go ahead.
Following the vote, Sudan Ambassador Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed thanked the council and stressed that Darfur since 2015 "has enjoyed security and stability, and that the humanitarian situation has become completely stable."
"The reality on the ground in the five Darfur states is undeniable," he said.
The resolution authorizes a sharp cut in the authorized troop level from about 8,700 currently to 4,050 by June of next year but noted that the council could "adjust the scope and pace of the reduction."
The council kept the ceiling for the police force at its current level of 2,500.
Council divided over exit strategy
Diplomats said Britain, backed by France and the Netherlands, had tried to scrap mention of a proposed target of 2020 for the possible UNAMID withdrawal in the resolution.
A council diplomat said the United States quietly endorsed it, in line with the US administration's push to cut peacekeeping costs. Ethiopia, China and Russia back the 2020 exit.
Deployed in 2007, UNAMID once had 16,000 blue helmets on the ground tasked with protecting civilians in Darfur, but the council last year agreed to a major drawdown.
The conflict in Darfur erupted in 2003 when rebels took up arms against Sudan's government, accusing it of marginalization.
In recent years, the level of violence has significantly dropped across Darfur, with Khartoum insisting that the conflict has ended in the region.
Human rights groups however have warned that the crisis is far from over, with fighting continuing in South Darfur's mountainous Jebel Marra area, displacing thousands.
The United Nations says that over the years the conflict has killed about 300,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million, with many having set up home over the last decade and a half in sprawling semi-permanent camps.Read Full Story