Darfur displaced people fearful as UN peacekeepers surrender to local forces By Reuters

2/2 © Reuters. United Nations Hybrid Operation peacekeepers receive a petition from protesters in Darfur 2/2

By Nafisa Eltahir and Khalid Abdelaziz CAIRO / KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Ahlam Hamid fled his home in Sudan’s Darfur region 17 years ago when government troops and militiamen, some on horseback, stormed his village and clashed with rebels. Now he is concerned about being at the mercy of those forces again, as an international peacekeeping mission deployed to contain the conflict abruptly withdraws. UNAMID, a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force established in 2007 to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian assistance in Darfur, stopped patrolling on January 1, days after a Council vote. Security Council to finalize his mandate. After signing a peace agreement with some rebel groups, Sudan’s transitional government is beginning to deploy a national force that it says will protect civilians. But thousands have protested across Darfur against UNAMID’s departure in recent weeks, saying it will leave them more vulnerable. The United Nations has reported an increase in violence in Darfur, including tribal clashes, militia attacks on protesters and new fighting involving rebel forces led by Abdel Wahed el-Nur, who has yet to sign the peace agreement. Hamid has been living with his family since 2003 in Kalma in South Darfur, a camp that is home to some 200,000 of the 1.5 million estimated to be still displaced in the five regions of Darfur. Men are at risk of dying if they leave Kalma, so women venture to collect firewood, work on farms or clean houses in the nearby town of Nyala, said Hamid, a 55-year-old woman who makes a living by weaving hands inside the camp. “There is a high probability that you will be mugged or raped,” he said by phone from the camp, referring to the militias. “But otherwise you will starve.” ATROCITIES The conflict in Darfur intensified after 2003, when mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum. The government forces and mainly the Arab militias that acted to suppress the revolt were accused of widespread atrocities. An estimated 300,000 people died. The war has subsided over the past decade and in April 2019 former President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide and war crimes in Darfur, was ousted from power after an uprising. . Darfurians say UNAMID provided a weak but necessary deterrent against the militias originally armed by Bashir to fight the rebels. The peacekeeping mission has been gradually scaled down in recent years, but its full withdrawal has been delayed due to security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic. “UNAMID makes us feel like we are seen by the world. But now they are leaving us with the criminals,” said Sheikh Mousa Bahar Adam, a community leader in Kalma. As UNAMID repatriates its 7,000-strong force over the next six months, Sudan is beginning to deploy its national force in Darfur. Half of the initial 6,000 peacekeepers will be police, and the rest will come from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the army and the general intelligence service, according to officials. Later it will absorb former rebels and civilians. The rebel groups agreed with the government to eventually increase the force to 20,000, said Nour Aldayim Taha, leader of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army that signed the peace accord. “We hope that the national protection force created by the government of Sudan can maintain the achievements that UNAMID has made in terms of protection of civilians and security,” said Ashraf Eissa, UNAMID spokesperson. FEAR AND DISTRUST Sudan’s information minister, Faisal Salih, said it was natural that there would be a void in the first phase after UNAMID left, but that the new force “would work together with the armed groups that signed the agreement to peace to maintain security in Darfur. ” . But Western diplomats have expressed concern about the nature of the UNAMID withdrawal. They say the Sudanese military’s long-standing opposition to the presence of the UN peacekeepers influenced the Security Council vote. Britain said it regretted that the resolution did not allow UNAMID to continue its activities as it progressed, in line with other recent UN peacekeeping missions. “It was the largest peacekeeping mission in the world and ending this way is not ideal,” said a Western diplomat. Fields turned over to Sudanese authorities over the past three years with equipment worth tens of millions of dollars have been looted. Since early January, some Darfur residents have reported increased insecurity, with an increase in theft incidents. Kalma residents remain deeply suspicious of government forces, in particular the RSF, which recruited members of the “Janjaweed” militias that terrorized Darfuris during the war and has consolidated its role in the security forces during the transition. The government says the attacks on civilians ended the previous regime. “There may be fear among the refugees towards the military as a result of what the previous regime used to do, but it is possible to rebuild trust by creating awareness that the government has changed and there is a new government whose goal is to protect civilians,” he said Salih. Hamid is not reassured. “When you go into town and see a khaki uniform or the RSF uniform, your heart stops,” he said.