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UN extends Darfur force mandate

The United Nations Security Council has extended its peacekeeping mission in Sudan's western Darfur region for another year.

The 15-nation council agreed unanimously on Friday to the mission's extension, telling Unamid, the joint African Union/UN peacekeeping force, to focus primarily on protecting civilians and aid deliveries.

It also condemned a recent surge of violence in Darfur and called on the Sudanese government to stop hindering the work of Unamid.

The peacekeeping force, which stands at about 21,700 troops and police, has been struggling for three years with the Darfur crisis, which erupted when mostly non-Arab fighters took up arms in early 2003, accusing the Sudanese government of neglect.

The government responded by mobilising mostly Arab fighters accused of a campaign of rape, murder and looting that created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. UN officials say that up to 300,000 people have died in the fighting, although the Sudanese government says that number is actually 10,000.

While extending Unamid's mandate until July 31, 2011, the security council called on it to give priority to protection of civilians and ensuring "safe, timely and unhindered humanitarian access" to an estimated two million refugees.

It instructed UN officials in Sudan to develop a "comprehensive strategy" to achieve those targets.

Ceasefire sought

The renewal of Unamid's mandate comes with a rise in violence in Darfur. At least eight people were reported killed and dozens injured this week at fighting in refugee camps.

Unamid reported earlier this month that 221 people had died in tribal fighting and other violence in Darfur in June after nearly 600 deaths in May.

The council resolution called on all parties to the conflict in Darfur to immediately end the violence and commit themselves to a "sustained and permanent ceasefire".

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, accused both the Sudanese government and rebel groups in a report this month of restricting access to areas where there had been fighting.

Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, Sudan's UN ambassador, said his government had placed "no restrictions whatsoever" on Unamid. Aid group Oxfam agreed with the security council that Unamid should focus on security and stay out of reconstruction.

El-Fateh Osman, Oxfam's Sudan head, said in a statement: "Mixing the work of blue helmets [peacekeepers] with aid groups will confuse Darfuris."
 
Separately, Susana Malcorra, a UN under-secretary-general, told reporters that the United Nations was preparing to expand its presence in semi-autonomous southern Sudan to help prepare for next year's referendum on possible secession for the south.

She said UN personnel would also help with training of local security forces and monitoring for the referendum.


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