Annan backs Pronk despite expulsion order

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — UN chief Kofi Annan has full confidence in his embattled special envoy to Sudan, whose status remains unchanged despite an expulsion order against him from Khartoum over his comments on the Darfur crisis, his spokesman said Monday.

Sudan on Sunday gave Jan Pronk three days to leave the country, accusing him of overstepping his mandate after he lashed out at Sudanese President Omar Bashir’s regime over its handling of the Darfur crisis.

“We are recalling him temporarily for consultations. His status remained unchanged,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. “He continues to be the special representative of the secretary general serving with the full support of the secretary general in that capacity.” The 66-year-old Pronk said he would fly to New York Monday “for consultations” with Annan and other senior UN officials.

Dujarric said Pronk was not due here until Wednesday. Pronk said he had a meeting Sunday with Sudanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali Karti, who gave him a letter for Annan informing him that Khartoum considers the envoy’s mission in Sudan “terminated”.

At issue is Pronk’s personal web log entry of October 14 in which he said that the Sudanese army had suffered major losses and was working with elements linked to the Janjaweed, a pro-government militia accused of gross abuses against ethnic minority civilians in Darfur.

The UN envoy also claimed that morale among Sudanese government troops was low.

The Sudanese military responded by accusing Pronk of “waging psychological warfare on the armed forces by propagating erroneous information that cast doubts about the capability of the armed forces in maintaining security and defending the country”.

Despite Annan’s expression of support for Pronk, a UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Dutch official had put the world body in a real bind. Queried about Pronk’s blog comments last week, Dujarric said they reflected his “personal views.” As to the propriety of having a senior UN official sound off on policy matters in a personal blog, Dujarric replied: “Staff regulations have not kept up with technology”.

He also said that Annan had fairly liberal views on allowing UN staffers to express themselves freely but added: “They [staffers] need to exercise proper judgement in doing so.” Khartoum’s expulsion touched off broad international condemnation, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday describing it as “unfortunate in the extreme” and pledging to consult with Annan.

Britain slammed the move as “counterproductive” and urged Khartoum to reconsider its decision, while France expressed “regret” and voiced hope for continuing dialogue between the UN and Khartoum “in a cooperative spirit”.

The European Union voiced deep concern and stressed that “the United Nations plays a key role which must be reinforced”.

Pronk has long been a thorn in the side of the Khartoum government.

He has openly called Sudan a “police state” and said refugees in Darfur were victims of “Arabic racism”.

The flap over Pronk’s latest comments complicate delicate diplomatic efforts to persuade Khartoum to reverse its decision not to allow a robust UN force to take over peacekeeping in Darfur from ill-equipped and underfunded African Union troops.

Last August 31, the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for the deployment of up to 20,000 UN peacekeepers to replace the embattled AU contingent that has failed to restore peace and stability in Darfur. At least 200,000 people have died as a result of fighting, famine and disease, and more than two million fled their homes since rebels launched an uprising in Darfur in early 2003, drawing a scorched earth response from the military and its militia allies.

Bashir’s regime has consistently rejected the deployment of UN forces, charging that the plan was part of a US-engineered plot to invade his country and plunder its resources.

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