New York - The UN Security Council on Thursday agreed to a major draw down of peacekeepers in Sudan's troubled region of Darfur after US pressure led to a $600 million cut in the UN budget for peace operations.
The council unanimously adopted a British-drafted resolution that will cut the number of troops and police serving in the joint African Union-UN mission known as UNAMID by at least 30 percent.
Deployed in 2007, UNAMID has about 16 000 blue helmets on the ground who are tasked with protecting civilians in the war that Sudan's government forces and pro-Khartoum militias are waging against rebel groups.
The United Nations and African Union maintain that the Darfur conflict is winding down and that the mission - among the costliest with a budget of over $1 billion - should be trimmed.
Human rights groups warn that the conflict is far from over and that the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers will leave many areas of the vast Darfur region without international witnesses.
"We recognise that the situation in Darfur remains fragile," said British Deputy Ambassador Peter Wilson.
"Nevertheless, we cannot shy away from the fact that the situation has evolved and it is right that UNAMID is adapted to reflect the current reality," Wilson told the council after the vote.
"We will not be taking our eyes off Darfur," he added.
The General Assembly is scheduled to vote on Friday on the new peacekeeping budget of $7.3 billion, down from the current $7.87 billion.
The council agreed to a gradual drawdown of UNAMID to be carried out in two phases of six months.
A first drawdown will reduce the number of UNAMID troops from 13 000 to about 11,400 in six months before dropping to 8 735 by the end of June 2018.
The number of police will drop from 3 150 to 2 888 by January and 2 500 by June.
The smaller UNAMID will be redeployed to the region of Jebel Marra, where most of the recent violence has been reported.
The drawdown however could be reviewed if the Sudanese government fails to ensure protection in those areas from where the peacekeepers will withdraw.
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will report to the council after six months on whether "conditions on the ground remain conducive to further reductions."