The United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur is set to end 13 years of peacekeeping in the vast Sudanese region yesterday, even as recent violent clashes leave residents fearful of new conflict.
Fighting erupted in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, which responded by recruiting and arming notorious Arab-dominated militia known as the Janjaweed.
A total of 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced, according to the United Nations.
"The joint United Nations-African Union mission in the Darfur region of Sudan (UNAMID) will officially end operations on Thursday, when the Government of Sudan will take over responsibility for the protection of civilians in the area," the mission said in a statement on Wednesday.
The bitter conflict has largely subsided in recent years and longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir -- wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and other alleged crimes in the western region -- was deposed last year.
But the country's transitional government is fragile, and ethnic and tribal clashes still periodically flare in Darfur, including clashes last week that left at least 15 people dead and dozens wounded.
Darfuris, many of whom remain in teeming camps years after they fled their homes, have held protests in recent weeks against the mission's imminent departure.
"The lives of Darfuri people are at stake, and the United Nations should reconsider its decision," Mohamed Abdelrahman told AFP on Wednesday at Kalma camp in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur.
The UN said that the phased withdrawal of the mission's approximately 8,000 armed and civilian personnel will begin in January and be completed inside six months.