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Sudan Expels Top U.N. Official After Critical Web Posting

BY Admin  October 23, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

U.N. envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk

In an entry on his blog at www.janpronk.nl, U.N. Special Representative Jan Pronk said Sudan’s army had suffered two major setbacks in recent battles against insurgents in North Darfur, that military officials were being let go and that soldiers were refusing to fight.

The entry angered the military, which asked President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to remove Pronk.

“We think that the presence of Jan Pronk in Sudan represents a military danger to the Sudan armed forces in … carrying out its duties,” the military said in a statement Friday, according to Reuters.

Pronk has served in Darfur for two years as head of the U.N. mission in the war-torn region of Sudan. His original assignment included monitoring a peace deal between North and South Sudan after 20 years of civil war, Reuters reported.

The statement also said Pronk had undermined the army by “casting doubt on the ability of the Sudanese Armed Forces to protect the Sudanese people and defend the state.”

Critics of the government said the move was an effort to further anger the international community, which has urged Sudan to accept a U.N. peacekeeping mission of 22,500 troops. Al-Bashir has rejected the proposal calling it an attempt at re-colonization.

“The hardliners with the government of Sudan are trying always to escalate the confrontation with the international community and Mr. Pronk has given them a good chance to succeed,” Faysal el-Bagir, head of the Khartoum human rights center, told Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking as she headed into a meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, called Sudan’s expulsion order “unfortunate in the extreme.”

“The situation in Darfur has been deteriorating and the international community needs very much to be able to act there,” she said.

More than 200,000 people have died in fighting between government forces and rebel groups, which launched an insurgency in early 2003 calling for additional resources for the impoverished Darfur region. An additional 2 million people have fled their homes for displacement camps.

An unobserved peace accord signed in May by the government and one of three rebel groups operating in the country has failed to stop the violence. The United Nations and the African Union also have accused Khartoum of launching recent air attacks on parts of North Darfur in violation of a Security Council resolution banning offensive flights.

A new rebel group, the National Redemption Front, recently launched an offensive against government troops in a neighboring region, which has led to battles in parts of North Darfur.

Pronk, meanwhile, was preparing to leave Monday and was headed to New York, after being summoned by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, reported Reuters.

This is not the first time Pronk’s Web site has gotten him into trouble, Reuters quoted a U.N. official who did not want to be identified as saying. U.N. headquarters has warned Pronk about the blog once before, the official said.

A second official, newly appointed U.S. envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios, also left Sudan Friday after al-Bashir refused to meet with him.