UN freezes drawdown of Darfur peace mission

UN security council unanimously votes to renew mandate of UNAMID until October 31 as political players in Khartoum continue with talks on a political transition.

UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council on Thursday agreed on a four-month pause in the drawdown of a peacekeeping mission from Sudan's Darfur region as leaders in Khartoum press on with difficult talks on a political transition.

The council unanimously voted to renew the mandate of the UN-African Union mission known as UNAMID until October 31, overcoming reservations from China and Russia.

Darfur rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government in 2003, triggering a conflict that has left more than 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced.

China, Sudan's major trading partner, has long supported Khartoum's view that the conflict in Darfur was winding down and that peacekeepers were no longer needed.

The council last year agreed to push ahead with a series of phased drawdowns with a view to shutting down the mission in 2020.

Deployed in 2007, UNAMID now has about 7,200 troops and police, down from the 16,000 sent to Darfur at the height of the conflict.

British Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen said the four-month pause was the "right decision" as it "recognises that Darfur is affected by wider instability in Sudan and that there is a need for continued protection of civilians in Darfur."

Britain said the United Nations and the African Union needed a "legitimate partner" to discuss the future of the UNAMID mission.

Sudan has been led by a military council since generals ousted leader Omar al-Bashir on April 11 after months of nationwide protests against his three-decade rule.

Ethiopia has proposed the formation of a new 15-member civilian-majority governing body, but the military council has rejected the proposal. Sudan's protest movement on Thursday said it received a new, joint proposal from the African Union and Ethiopia for a solution to the crisis.

In recent weeks, Ethiopia and the AU have been mediating between the military council and the pro-democracy movement demanding civilian rule. Talks collapsed when Sudanese security forces cleared a protest camp in the capital, Khartoum, earlier this month. The deadly clampdown killed at least 128 people cross the county, according to protest organizers. Authorities say the toll is at 61, including three security forces.

Protest leaders, represented by the coalition Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, said in a brief statement they have a draft of a proposed agreement with the military council, based on the previous initiative from Ethiopia.

Ethiopia's initiative was built on previous agreements between the military and the protesters. It also tackled the disputed makeup of the sovereign council, proposing a 15-member body with eight civilian and seven military members, with a rotating chairmanship.

All the civilians in the proposed council would come from the FDFC, except for one independent and "neutral" appointee. The Ethiopian proposal also stipulates that the military would chair the council in the first 18 months, and the FDFC the second half of the transition.

The military council, however, had refused to agree to that, saying the initiative was to pave the way for resuming talks with the FDFC, "not to offer proposals for solutions." It asked Ethiopia to present a joint proposal with the AU, which it said had handed the military a separate transition plan.

The US envoy to Sudan met Thursday with Arab League chief Ahmed Abuel-Gheit in Cairo after he concluded a four-day visit to the Sudanese capital.

Donald Booth expressed America's support for the Sudanese protest movement and called for a civilian-led government amid stalled negotiations between the pro-democracy leaders and the ruling military.

The US Embassy in Khartoum said in a statement Wednesday that Booth urged the military to stop attacking protesters and allow for an independent probe into the crackdown.