UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday the Trump administration wants to see "proof" from Sudan's government — not more words — that it is making progress toward peace and protecting civilians in its vast and troubled Darfur region.
A review of the 17,000-strong joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, which costs over $1 billion annually, is underway. Haley told the Security Council that the Sudanese government has tried to obstruct its operations "from day one" and "is still failing to protect its people."
"But against all of these odds, the mission has helped to protect civilians," she said.
The Sudanese government wants the joint mission, known as UNAMID, to leave. But Haley said after 10 years the council needs to see that the Sudanese government is doing far more to help its people by meeting benchmarks to ensure peace, protect civilians and prevent violence.
"It is not enough for the government to promise to do better," she said. "We need to see proof."
The UNAMID mandate is up for renewal in June and Haley said the U.S. expects Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' next reports to the council to "clearly spell out where Sudan meets these benchmarks and where it does not."
Darfur, which is the size of Spain, erupted in violence in 2003, when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. Khartoum was accused of retaliating by unleashing local nomadic Arab tribes known as the janjaweed on civilians — a charge the government denies.
Haley said UNAMID was "a lifeline" when its peacekeepers deployed in 2007 after more than 200,000 people were dead and 2.4 million had fled their homes. But she said the situation in 2017, while "still far from what we hoped it would be 10 years ago," is changing.
"In many areas the immediate threat of violence from government confrontations with the armed opposition has passed," Haley said. "The people need the rule of law, they need police who will respect their human rights and protect them from criminals and militias, and they need help to mediate local disputes so they don't flare up and spread."
She said the United States welcomes that both the government and several opposition groups have announced unilateral cease-fires. She urged that both sides now move toward peace talks.
Haley also urged the main holdout to a cease-fire — the Sudan Liberation Army's founder Abdul Wahid Elnur whose forces still hold pockets of territory in Jebel Marra — to immediately stop fighting and join the negotiations.
Jeremiah Mamabolo, the new U.N.-AU special representative for Darfur, told the council that Wahid's force can no longer carry out "significant military operations" and have suffered defections to the government side. But he said Wahid refuses to join the cease-fire.
So far, however, Mamabolo said efforts by the AU, supported by UNAMID, to get the parties to sign a cease-fire agreement and start direct negotiations toward a peace agreement to end the conflict "have remained inconclusive."
But he expressed hope that President Omar Bashir's March 8 decree pardoning 259 rebels captured in fighting with government forces — including 66 combatants from Darfur on death row — "will contribute to the firming of mutual trust between the Sudanese parties."
Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed welcomed the "unprecedented stability" in Darfur and said the extension of the unilateral cease-fire for six months in January is "proof of a serious effort to revive peace," end violence, and start reconstruction.
"Improvement in security and humanitarian conditions in Darfur and the reduction of the activity of the rebel groups ... proves that what the government of the Sudan was calling for in 2014 is correct," he said, and that is "to lay down a strategic plan for the phasing out of UNAMID from Darfur."