KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan has shut the human rights office of the joint United Nations-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping mission in Darfur, the foreign ministry said, amid tension over allegations of mass rape by Sudanese troops in the troubled region.
UNAMID confirmed on Tuesday that it had received a formal closure request from the Sudanese government on Sunday, but said it was working with authorities to “clarify the role” of its Khartoum-based human rights and liaison offices.
Sudan announced on Friday it had asked UNAMID to prepare an exit plan, days after denying it permission to make a second visit to the site of the alleged assaults in Darfur.
Sudan initially refused to let UNAMID visit the village of Tabit at all but later granted it access. UNAMID found no evidence of allegations by some Darfur rebels that Sudanese troops had raped about 200 women and girls. But UMAMID said on Nov. 10 it was concerned about the heavy military presence during interviews with alleged victims.
The foreign ministry said Sudanese authorities had closed UNAMID’s human rights office in Khartoum, accusing the mission of violating its mandate by opening the bureau outside Darfur.
“This step is not an escalation on our part or a restriction because of the spreading of false allegations about a mass rape in Tabit, Darfur, but we are trying to return ... UNAMID to its mandate,” senior ministry official Abdallah al-Azraq told Reuters.
UNAMID said the human rights section was part of its Liaison Office in Khartoum, which plays a central role in connecting the Darfur mission with the government and other organizations, and had been operating since the mission’s inception in 2007.
The Darfur conflict erupted in 2003 when mainly African tribes took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum. The violence has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced over two million, according to the United Nations.UNAMID is deployed in Darfur with a mandate to stem violence against civilians in a conflict that has seen the International Criminal Court issue a warrant for the arrest President Omar al-Bashir for suspected genocide. Khartoum has dismissed the charges and refused to recognize the ICC.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum and Lin Noueihed in Cairo; Editing by Mark Heinrich