Sweden and Norway cancel Darfur mission

Sweden and Norway said on Wednesday they had withdrawn their offer of a joint force of 400 troops to be sent to Darfur as part of a United Nations-African Union mission due to Sudanese opposition.

“Norway and Sweden have long been preparing to support the UN effort in Darfur. We therefore regret that we are forced to withdraw our offer of an engineering unit to UNAMID,” the foreign ministers of Sweden and Norway, Carl Bildt and Jonas Gahr Stoere, said in a statement.

The unit was to help build up Darfur’s infrastructure in the early stages of the mission.

Sudan President Omar al-Beshir has objected to UN plans to include soldiers from Nepal, Thailand and Scandinavian countries in the peacekeeping force for Darfur.

“Sudan must bear the full responsibility for the situation that has now arisen,” the ministers said.

“Norway and Sweden are being prevented from contributing to this very necessary effort, which was aimed at improving security for the people of violence-ridden Darfur,” they said.

UNAMID took over from the African Union on January 1st. Currently, most of the force comes from the 7,000 existing AU troops who have been trying to bring peace to Darfur for the past three years.

The mission, the UN’s largest, will eventually consist of 20,000 troops and 6,000 police and civilian personnel, but only around 9,000 troops and police are currently in place.

The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African tribes rebelled against what they consider decades of neglect and discrimination by the Arab-dominated Khartoum government.

The government’s response was to back the Arab Janjaweed militia and give it free rein to crack down on the rebels and their suspected civilian supporters.

At least 200,000 people have died and more than two million have fled their homes since the conflict began.