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Sudan Tribune

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Sudan demands UN’s Pronk apologize for Darfur comments

Oct 20, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — Sudan’s Foreign Ministry demanded an apology Friday from UN chief envoy Jan Pronk, saying his comments on the fighting in Darfur were “unacceptable,” state television reported.

Jan_Pronk_Paris.jpgThe broadcast also ran a statement from the Sudanese military that said Pronk, the head of the U.N. mission in Sudan, was “persona non-grata.”

The Foreign Ministry did not say that Pronk would be asked to leave Sudan, but state TV quoted Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Amin as saying he expected “the political and the military leaderships to take further measures to either expel Pronk or ask him to leave.”

Pronk, a former Dutch diplomat, wrote Oct. 14 on his personal Web blog that the government forces had lost “two major battles” in Darfur, western Sudan, where they have been waging a counterinsurgency against rebels from the region’s ethnic African population.

“Losses seem to have been very high. Reports speak about hundreds of casualties in each of the two battles, many wounded soldiers and many taken as prisoner,” Pronk wrote.

“The morale in the government army in North Darfur has gone down. Some generals have been sacked; soldiers have refused fighting,” Pronk said.

The military said the remarks by Pronk – who said government forces had suffered two defeats in Darfur recently and that troop morale was low – amounted to “psychological war against the Sudanese army.”

The U.N. has no formal communication from Sudan that Pronk has been declared persona non-grata, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. The U.N. requires staff to get permission before publishing books but has no rules about blogs, he said.

“There are no specific staff regulations on the use of personal blogs by U.N. staff members but we do expect those staff members to exercise proper judgment in what they include,” Dujarric said.

Dujarric said the U.N. had held several discussions with Pronk about his blog, though he would not characterize them. However, two U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because those conversations were private, said Pronk had been explicitly asked to stop writing about his work in the blog.

“Of course we’ve been telling him to do that,” one of the officials said. “But there’s very little anybody can do about it except Mr. Pronk.”

In his blog, Pronk speaks of his contacts with all the warring parties in Darfur, evidently seeing such talks as part of his mission to try to restore the cease-fire and enable the flow of U.N. aid to civilians.

He also reports that the Khartoum government has been making “secret overtures” to rebel groups that did not sign the Darfur peace accord of May.

Pronk’s remarks constituted “blatant intervention in the armed forces’ affairs,” the military said in its statement.

The military accused the U.N. envoy of having inappropriate contact with the Darfur rebels, saying “Pronk deals with the rebels and visits them without government approval.”