April 27, 2009 / 4:42 PM / 10 years ago

Darfur is now a "low-intensity conflict": U.N

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Violence in Sudan’s Darfur region has subsided into a “low-intensity conflict,” an international envoy said on Monday, but the United States and its allies disagreed, according to diplomats.

A truck carrying newly arrived internally displaced persons and their possessions drive into Zam Zam camp in Al Fasher, northern Darfur in this picture taken March 16, 2009. REUTERS/U.S. Embassy Khartoum/Handout

Briefing the U.N. Security Council, the joint U.N.-African Union special representative to Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, said around 130-150 people were dying each month due to violence in Darfur, a region roughly the size of France.

“The situation has changed from the period of intense hostilities in 2003-2004 when tens of thousands of people were killed,” Adada told the 15-member council. “Today, in purely numerical terms it is a low-intensity conflict.”

But he also said there was a “high risk of escalation.”

“This risk of active war is ever present, and it is my duty to warn this council about those hazards,” Adada said.

Several council diplomats said U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who has publicly referred to the conflict in Darfur as “ongoing genocide,” disputed Adada’s characterization during a closed-door discussion after his briefing.

“The U.S. delegation took issue with the idea that it is a low-intensity conflict,” a council diplomat said. Another diplomat said the French, British, Austrian and Mexican envoys also disagreed with Adada’s description.

According to figures collected by the U.N.-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, some 2,000 people died from violence in the region during the 15 months between January 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009, one third of them civilians.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration had referred to the situation in Darfur as “genocide in slow motion,” saying many deaths resulted from disease, neglect and poor conditions in crowded refugee camps.

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also support the U.S. view that Darfur is still in the throes of genocide orchestrated by the Khartoum government, a charge it rejects.

ONE MILLION AT RISK

The council was discussing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on UNAMID, in which he warns that Khartoum’s decision to expel 13 foreign and three domestic humanitarian aid organizations had put “over 1 million people at life-threatening risk” in Darfur.

Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, dismissed the report, saying the estimate was “a big lie.”

Khartoum said it expelled the humanitarian aid agencies because they collaborated with the Hague-based International Criminal Court, which issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir last month.

The court charged Bashir with orchestrating mass killings and deportations across Darfur.

Ban’s UNAMID report said there were just over 15,600 peacekeepers on the ground at the end of March, well below the force’s mandated strength of 26,000.

“We think that by the end of the year we could be almost at the full deployment of the mission,” Adada told reporters after the meeting. But he said they still lacked crucial military hardware, above all helicopters to move troops quickly.

U.N. officials say as many as 300,000 people have died and more than 2.7 million driven from their homes in almost six years of ethnic and political violence. Some 4.7 million people rely on humanitarian aid. Khartoum says 10,000 have died.

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