Sudan's Darfur offensive forces 78,000 to flee: UN

A fighter from the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces sits on a vehicle in the city of Nyala, in south Darfur, on May 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ashraf Shazly) (AFP/File)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - At least 78,000 people and possibly as many as 130,000 have been driven from their homes during the Sudanese army's offensive in Darfur this year, the United Nations said Wednesday.

UN peacekeeping official Edmond Mulet told the Security Council that the army's "Operation Decisive Summer" against Darfur rebels "has resulted in high numbers of newly displaced people."

Aid groups have put the number of newly displaced at more than 78,000 and the United Nations is working to verify reports of as many as 130,000 people driven from their homes.

Darfur has been wracked by conflict since 2003, when ethnic insurgents launched a campaign against the Arab-dominated government of President Omar al-Bashir.

The conflict has cost 300,000 lives and forced some 2.5 million people to flee their homes, according to the UN.

Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur.

The new surge of violence in Darfur comes as the United Nations is in talks with Khartoum on an exit strategy for its joint mission with the African Union (UNAMID), which has 15,000 peacekeepers on the ground.

Sudan's Deputy Ambassador Hassan Hamid Hassan told the council that "there is no war remaining" in Darfur, "with the exception of a few pockets of resistance that carry out limited sabotage operations."

Darfur, he argued, is riven by "tribal conflicts which have always raged throughout the region."

The deputy envoy called for progress in negotiating the exit strategy but Mulet made clear that this was "linked to results and concrete improvement of the situation on the ground."

The United Nations has set out benchmarks for Sudan to address the Darfur crisis as a condition for winding down the UNAMID mission.

"Now is not the time to abandon the people of Darfur," a US official said following closed-door consultations at the council.

"It would be irresponsible for the UN Security Council and AU Peace and Security Council to give in to the demands of Khartoum for a premature exit, or even partial withdrawal, of this peacekeeping force, given the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis," said the official, who asked not to be named.

The Security Council is due to decide on June 24 on renewing the mandate of the UNAMID force until next year and a working group on the exit strategy is due to hold more meetings in the coming weeks.