A picture taken on January 20, 2020 shows the area where violence erupted between Arab nomads and members of the non-Arab Massalit ethnic group in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. (Photo: AFP)
A Sudanese bishop expressed concern that "peace is not felt on the ground" in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan even though the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission has begun a drawdown of troops.
Bishop Yunan Andali of El Obeid, Sudan, the diocese that includes Darfur, said some groups that hold large amounts of land were left out of talks that led to the decision among the agencies involved.
"Hundreds (of fighters) still hold guns in their hands; there are sometimes conflicts right now and then. The situation is still fragile for peacekeeping forces to evacuate," Bishop Andali said.
The drawdown of troops under the mission, known as UNAMID, began Jan. 1. The 15-nation U.N. Security Council Dec. 22 unanimously adopted a resolution to terminate the mission by June 30 and turn over security of the region to the Sudanese government.
The mission was deployed in 2007 in a step to end fighting that erupted in Darfur in 2003 between government forces and rebel groups.
The UNAMID website said about 4,000 peacekeeping troops, 480 police advisers, 1,631 police, nearly 500 international civilian staff and 945 national civilian staff were in the region.
Progress made by the transitional government of Sudan in addressing the conflict in Darfur is a principal reason for the withdrawal of troops, UNAMID said.
The drawdown became possible after Sudan and two armed groups in Darfur reached a deal in October to end hostilities. The agreement came 30 months after former Sudan president Omar al-Bashir was deposed by opponents of his authoritarian 30-year rule.
However, thousands of people seemed to agree with Bishop Andali's concerns during protests of the U.N. decision to end UNAMID's role. They called for the forces to stay because they still felt threatened by violence.
Some officials with humanitarian aid agencies have told regional media that the withdrawal would create a "security vacuum" in the region as armed groups continued to patrol some areas.
During 13 years of conflict, about 300,000 people have died and millions more were displaced.