South Africa pulls out of Unamid in Darfur
South Africa has told the UN it will withdraw its troops from the joint UN-AU Mission in Darfur (Unamid), according to a UN official.
“The government of South Africa decided to withdraw its troops from the Mission,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
The 850 troops will end their operations on 15 April. “Of course, we will have to look at the contingency in terms of how we fill those gaps,” she said.
South African President Jacob Zuma announced the termination of the country’s involvement with Unamid in a short statement earlier this week. The termination will take effect from 1 April according to the statement said.
Ahead of the presidential announcement, the South African permanent mission to the UN apparently informed the UN departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support via a note the country would be withdrawing its deployed infantry battalion “in lieu of” the scheduled forthcoming rotation, the African defenceWeb reported.
The Operation Cordite of the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) started in July 2004 with the deployment of staff officers and observers to Darfur in Sudan in support of the AU Mission in Sudan (Amis).
Not too long afterwards, South Africa was asked to deploy additional observers and staff officers to supplement then existing Sudan deployments. This ended when Amis was terminated in December 2007 to become the first hybrid AU/UN mission on 1 January 2008, called Unamid. In November 2008 the SANDF component of Unamid was increased to around the 800 mark, a figure that has remained constant since then.
Last year, President Jacob Zuma, as commander-in-chief of the SANDF, extended the South African deployment in Darfur by one year. Keeping the 850 soldiers in Sudan until March 31 was estimated to cost ZAR369,079,895 ($24 million) for the 12 months.
South Africa faced a political scandal in June 2015 when President Omar Al Bashir – who was visiting to attend an AU summit – was allowed to escape the country in a private jet. His escape, allegedly with the connivance of South Africa’s controversial President Jacob Zuma, came in defiance of an order by the South African High Court, pending a decision on whether to hand Al Bashir over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in accordance with international arrest warrants.
Al Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the ICC for alleged genocide and war crimes in Darfur, but some influential AU leaders, in spite of being signatories to the Rome Statute, have repeatedly voiced their lack of support for the Court.
Relations between Sudan and the UN became tense after Khartoum called for the withdrawal of the 17,000-strong Unamid peacekeeping mission from Darfur following a dispute over the mass rape in Tabit in North Darfur by army troops in October 2014.
South Africa's decision to pull out comes after five weeks of intense fighting in Jebel Marra. More than 87,000 people fled the area towards North Darfur. UN officials are seeking access to Central Darfur where unconfirmed reports suggest 50,000 newly displaced sought shelter there, and aid organisations are denied access.
Last year, Khartoum announced that the next 'dry season' would witness “the end to all rebel movements in the country”. Mid January, joint army and militia forces, backed by the Sudanese Air Force, launched a major offensive on strongholds of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdelwahid El Nur (SLM-AW) in the Jebel Marra area. Khartoum said it was responding to attacks by the rebels.
More than 63,000 newly displaced from Jebel Marra sought refuge near the Unamid team site in Sortony in North Darfur, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan reported in a press statement yesterday.
According to the UN, more than 300,000 people have been killed in the fighting in Darfur since 2003, and about 2.5 million have been displaced.
(Sources: AFP, defenceWeb, The Guardian)
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