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Sudan orders U.N. envoy to leave country

Monday, October 23, 2006

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- The Sudanese government Sunday ordered the chief U.N. envoy out of the country after he wrote that Sudan's army had suffered major losses in recent fighting in Darfur.

Jan Pronk was given 72 hours to leave -- an order that is likely to complicate international efforts to halt the killings, rapes and other atrocities in the strife-torn region of western Sudan.

"The presence of the United Nations is vital to hundreds of thousands of citizens of the Darfur region," said a European Union spokesman, Amadeu Altafaj Tardio, in Brussels.

In a statement distributed by the official Sudan News Agency, the country's Foreign Ministry accused Pronk of demonstrating "enmity to the Sudanese government and the armed forces" and of involvement in unspecified activities "that are incompatible with his mission."

In New York, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan had received a letter from the Sudanese government asking that Pronk be removed from the post.

"The secretary-general is studying the letter and has in the meantime requested that Mr. Pronk come to New York for consultations," Dujarric said.

Pronk, a blunt-speaking former Dutch Cabinet minister, drew sharp criticism from the Sudanese armed forces after he wrote this month in his blog, www.janpronk.nl, that Sudan's military had suffered heavy losses in recent fighting with rebels in northern Darfur.

"Reports speak about hundreds of casualties in each of the two battles, many wounded soldiers and many taken as prisoner," he said.

The Sudanese armed forces said Thursday that those remarks amounted to "psychological war against the Sudanese army" and declared that Pronk was "persona non-grata." One day later the military demanded an official apology.

Even before the blog appeared, Sudan's government had been at odds with Pronk over Western efforts to get Sudan to allow a U.N. force of 20,000 troops to take over peacekeeping in Darfur from a 7,000-member African Union force.

Violence has risen dramatically in recent weeks in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in three years of fighting.

U.N. officials have said the African Union force is too small and ill-equipped to cope with the violence and protect civilians from rape, murder and pillage.

But President Omar al-Bashir has rejected a U.N. peacekeeping force, branding it as simply a bid to restore colonial rule.

Despite the move against Pronk, the official news agency said Khartoum was "committed to cooperate" with the U.N. and would work with a new envoy "in accordance with signed treaties with the U.N. and the current principles of international law."

In Geneva, Switzerland, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Heuze noted that Pronk's comments were on his private blog and reflect "only his personal views."

Britain condemned the decision and urged the Sudanese to reconsider.

"This step is counterproductive and will contribute nothing to solving the problems of Sudan," Lord Triesman, the Foreign Office minister for African issues, said in a statement.

Last June, the Sudanese suspended the work of all U.N. missions in the Darfur except UNICEF and the World Food Program after claiming the U.N. had transported a rebel leader in violation of agreements.

The next day, the government reversed the decision following a meeting between a representative of the Sudanese Foreign Ministry and the United Nations.

Darfur, a largely arid plateau in western Sudan about three-quarters the size of Texas, has been in turmoil since February 2003, when ethnic African tribes rebelled after years of neglect by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

The government responded with a military campaign in which pro-government Arab militia, the Janjaweed, are alleged to have committed widespread atrocities. Khartoum denies supporting the Janjaweed.

A peace deal this year was signed by the Sudanese government and the main rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Movement.

But a breakaway faction and another rebel group rejected the deal and fighting has escalated, causing increasing numbers of aid workers to withdraw, leaving the refugees without food and medicine.

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said Sunday that the United States should do more to help stem violence in Darfur.

"When you have situations involving genocide, it is important for us as a world community -- and the United States is the world's sole super power -- for us to take that seriously, and to make commitments of resources to deal with it," Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Pronk, 66, served several terms in the Dutch parliament and served in the Dutch Cabinet under two prime ministers. He was appointed as U.N. special representative for Sudan in June 2004.

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