Sudan puts tighter controls on UN peacekeepers

AP News
Posted: Dec 04, 2014 7:31 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Sudan has imposed tighter controls on a massive, troubled U.N. peacekeeping force while trying to pressure it to leave the country, and it claims allegations of a mass rape in Darfur that have strained relations have been found to be not true.

The U.N.'s peacekeeping chief on Thursday told the Security Council that a U.N. team started meeting this week with Sudanese counterparts about an exit strategy after Sudan's government publicly called for the mission to go.

Tensions are high over the U.N.'s attempts to investigate the reported rape of 200 women and girls in a Darfur village by government-allied troops. Sudan last month demanded that the mission remove two human rights experts from a Khartoum liaison office, which peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous called "unacceptable."

Now Sudan has told the U.N. mission not to work with local officials without checking with the foreign ministry, Ladsous said.

Sudanese ambassador Rahamtalla Elnor said it's time to discuss a departure, saying a national dialogue will bring peace to Darfur.

The rape investigation is the latest source of friction between Sudan and the deeply troubled 20,300-strong peacekeeping force in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting the government for more than a decade.

The joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission at first said its investigation found no evidence of a mass rape in Tabit village, but the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict said a heavy military presence during the visit could have affected its findings. The Security Council then demanded that Sudan allow a full investigation.

Instead, Sudan on Thursday called the peacekeeping mission unprofessional and gave council members the results of its own investigation. An executive summary obtained by The Associated Press says a prosecutor's team questioned 88 people in the village and found no evidence of rape.

"The women of Tabet live under the wing of men," the summary says. "No such grave crimes could have happened while men would not move a finger or have some reaction." It says those questioned were "outraged by the tarnishing of their reputations" and that women in the village have filed a complaint to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The office of Ban's spokesman said a letter from Sudanese women's groups was sent to a high-ranking U.N. official in Sudan and transmitted to Ban's office.

"The government of Sudan definitely has nothing to be accused of," Elnor later told reporters.

Sudan's report appeared not to answer some council members' concerns. "Would a woman admit she was raped with soldiers looking over her shoulder? Unbiased investigation needed," council member Lithuania tweeted after the meeting.

The Darfur mission has the second-highest budget of all U.N. peacekeeping forces, at more than $1.3 billion a year, but is has faced persistent criticism about its effectiveness. Early this year, the Security Council ordered a review of its work and asked Ban to suggest options for the mission's future, including an exit strategy, by the end of February 2015.

The council on Thursday urged that Sudan's government cooperate fully with the mission.