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UN envoy prepares Sudan exit after expulsion

Oct 23, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — U.N. envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk prepared to leave Khartoum on Monday after the African country’s government raised the stakes in a running dispute with the world body by ordering Pronk to leave.

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Khartoum was already on a collision course with the international community over its rejection of a U.N. Security Council resolution to send 22,500 U.N. troops to its violent western Darfur region. It calls the plan a Western invasion aimed at recolonising Sudan.

Sunday’s order to expel the most powerful U.N. official in Sudan has Pronk packing his things to leave after more than two years at the head of a difficult mission in a war-torn country and observers saying the move exacerbates existing tensions.

"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," said Faysal el-Bagir, head of the Khartoum human rights center.

Pronk published comments on his web site www.janpronk.nl saying the army had lost two major battles with rebels in North Darfur, morale was low, generals were being sacked and soldiers refusing to fight, comments which infuriated Sudan’s powerful armed forces.

Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said it would continue to cooperate with Pronk’s replacement and the United Nations. EU ambassador in Sudan Kent Dagerfeld said he regretted Khartoum’s decision to expel Pronk.

"We would like the government to reconsider its decision," he said.

Described by a U.N. source as "somewhat bemused" Pronk canceled his travel plans for the rest of the week and will head to New York on Monday following a summons from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He will not return.

Pronk came to Khartoum mainly to head a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s south and to monitor implementation of a north-south accord which ended Africa’s longest civil war. But he spent more time on the separate Darfur crisis.

POLITICAL Theater

Experts estimate 200,000 people have died in 3-1/2 years of fighting and that 2.5 million have been forced from their homes in Darfur. Washington calls the rape, looting and murder in Darfur genocide, a charge Khartoum rejects.

The International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes in the region. Critics say Khartoum fears U.N. troops would arrest officials likely to be indicted by the ICC.

Some observers questioned whether the expulsion was little more than political theater because Pronk, as Annan’s political appointee, was likely to lose his position when Annan left the world body at the end of the year.

"Mr. Pronk...his period is nearly finished so it is more political maneuver than genuine political action from the government," said el-Bagir.

Others said Pronk himself may have made a political move to "go out with a bang." Only three months earlier Pronk had similar problems with comments he wrote on his blog that changes needed to be made to the Darfur peace deal, signed in May by only one of three negotiating rebel factions.

"He is very savvy. He must have known what the government’s reaction would be to this," said one diplomat who declined to be named. One U.N. source said Pronk had already been warned by U.N. headquarters in New York about his blog.

Known among Sudanese as the "governor general", a reference to former British colonial rule, Pronk had irked many different parties but had a reputation of being fair and hard-working.

Some observers said whoever replaces Pronk is likely to be less outspoken and Darfur rebels hailed his expulsion as a victory for those who want to silence criticism of Khartoum.

"The government is trying to muffle all the free voices in Sudan," said Darfur rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim. "Now the world will not know what is really happening in Darfur."

(Reuters)