Fears after ex-peacekeeper bases in Sudan's Darfur looted

AFP , Friday 2 Jul 2021

The joint United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in January embarked on a phased withdrawal

This picture taken on June 22, 2021, shows a former site of the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), vandalised and destroyed during a pahsed withdrawal from Sudan's Darfur, underscoring the fragile security situation in a region of frequent inter-tribal clashes AFP

A peacekeeping force this week completed its withdrawal from Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region, but security fears have been stoked after looters vandalised or destroyed many of its outposts.

The vast, arid and impoverished western region awash with guns is still reeling from a bitter conflict that broke out under Sudan's former strongman Omar al-Bashir in 2003, leaving hundreds of thousands dead.

"Looters descended on the site from all sides," said local resident Ahmed Awad, who said he witnessed in March the pillaging of a base in the village of Menwashie, 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of Nyala, state capital of South Darfur.

"Everything was stolen within hours."

The joint United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in January embarked on a phased withdrawal -- at a time when Sudan is in the midst of a political transition and a dire economic crisis.

To many, UNAMID -- once one of the world's largest missions with some 16,000 peacekeepers at its peak -- had served as a deterrent force, despite consistently having failed to prevent scores of attacks.

The mission was set up in a bid to end a war that erupted after ethnic minority rebels complaining of discrimination rose up against Bashir's Arab-dominated government.

The war resulted in some 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, the UN says.

But with Bashir ousted in April 2019, a transitional government in place in Khartoum, and after a landmark peace deal struck in October with key rebel groups, UNAMID's mandate ended on December 31, closing 13 years of operations.

- 'Reduced to rubble' -
Shortly after UNAMID's mandate ended, hundreds were killed in clashes between rival groups in several parts of Darfur, a fractured society riven by bitter rivalries over land and water.

Looters from across Darfur have repeatedly broken into the sites to make off with pickings worth millions of dollars -- everything from television sets to power generators.

On Wednesday, the force announced its withdrawal was completed.

UNAMID had hoped the 14 locations it handed over to the Sudanese government would be utilised for the long-term benefit of local communities.

Instead, eight sites were subjected to "vandalism" and "looting", with the perpetrators largely unidentified, the UN said.

Darfuris say the interim government failed to live up to promises.

In North Darfur, UNAMID officials visited a former base in Shangil Tobaya.

"The camp structures have for the most part been reduced to rubble, and all usable items have been removed," a UN official told AFP.

While the UNAMID force has withdrawn, UN humanitarian agencies remain, as well its Khartoum-based political mission, the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS).

- 'Completely levelled' -
Radwan Abdalla, a resident of Attash camp for the displaced in South Darfur, said the vandalism was a continuation of attacks on UNAMID sites handed over in recent years.

"I have seen this happen before, in December 2019," he said. "The area was completely levelled."

*This story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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