The top UN official in Sudan recently accused the army of mobilizing Arab militias after suffering major losses in fighting in Darfur. Now the government has struck back by ordering the envoy to leave the country within three days.
The order issued on Sunday against the UN Special Representative Jan Pronk is the most serious dispute so far between the UN and the Khartoum government, which has refused to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur to maintain order and protect civilians from killings, rapes and other atrocities.
The outspoken Pronk, a former Dutch politician and diplomat, leveled the charge in his personal Web blog.
In a posting Oct. 14, Pronk said Sudan's military had suffered heavy losses in recent fighting with rebels in northern Darfur.
"Reports speak about hundreds of casualties in each of the two battles, many wounded soldiers and many taken as prisoner," he said.
Pronk also said the government was responding to the deteriorating situation "by directing more troops and equipment from elsewhere to the region and by mobilizing Arab militia," which have been accused of horrific atrocities.
"This is a dangerous development. [UN] Security Council resolutions which forbid armed mobilization are being violated," he added.
Since Thursday, the Sudanese military had been denouncing Pronk for the allegations, branding them "psychological warfare against the Sudanese army."
And on Sunday, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry informed the UN that Pronk had 72 hours to leave the country.
In a statement that was distributed by the official Sudan News Agency, the ministry accused Pronk of demonstrating "enmity to the Sudanese government and the armed forces" and of involvement in unspecified activities "that are incompatible with his mission."
In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan had received a letter from the Sudanese government asking that Pronk be removed from the post.
"The secretary-general is studying the letter and has in the meantime requested that Mr. Pronk come to New York for consultations," Dujarric said.
Even before the blog appeared, Sudan's government had been at odds with Pronk over Western efforts to get Sudan to allow a UN force of 20,000 troops to take over peacekeeping duties in Darfur from a 7,000-member African Union force.
Violence has risen dramatically in recent weeks in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in more than three years of fighting.
UN officials have said the African Union force is too small and ill-equipped to cope with the violence and protest civilians from rape, murder and pillage.
But President Omar al-Bashir has rejected a UN peacekeeping force, branding it as simply a bid to restore colonial rule.
Despite the move against Pronk, the official news agency said Khartoum was "committed to cooperate" with the UN and would work with a new envoy "in accordance with signed treaties with the UN and the current principles of international law."
Still, the order is expected to have a chilling effect on international efforts to protect civilians in Darfur and convince the government to accept UN peacekeepers.
In Geneva, Switzerland, UN spokeswoman Marie Heuze noted that Pronk's comments were on his private blog and reflect "only his personal views."
Britain condemned the decision and urged the Sudanese to reconsider.