Sudan's hybrid United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur is set to end its 13-year peacekeeping operations in the conflict marred region Thursday, even as recent violent clashes leave residents fearful.
"The joint United Nations-African Union mission in the Darfur region of Sudan (UNAMID) will officially end operations on Thursday, when the Government of Sudan will take over responsibility for the protection of civilians in the area," the mission said in a statement on Wednesday.
While the bitter conflict that began in 2003 and claimed 300,000 lives has largely subsided, tribal clashes last week left at least 15 people dead and dozens wounded.
Citizens, many of whom remain displaced, have held protests in recent weeks against the mission's imminent departure.
"The lives of Darfuri people are at stake, and the United Nations should reconsider its decision," Darfuri Mohamed Abdelrahman told AFP at a sit-in at Kalma camp in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur.
The UN said that the phased drawdown will begin in January and take six months to complete.
Residents in Kalma protesting the mission's closure held up banners reading: "we trust UN protection for IDPs (internally displaced people)," and "we reject UNAMID's exit."
Sudanese authorities have said troops will be deployed to the region to contain any violence.
Conflict erupted in Darfur in 2003, when African minority rebels rose up against president Omar al-Bashir's Arab-dominated government, which they accused of marginalising the region.
Bashir's government unleashed an armed militia of mostly Arab nomads known as the Janjaweed, who have been accused by rights groups of "ethnic cleansing" campaigns and widespread rape.
The fighting displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN.
Bashir was deposed by the army in April 2019 amid unprecedented months-long protests against his rule, before the military agreed a power sharing transition with civilians in August that year.
In October, the transitional government signed a peace deal with rebel groups including in Darfur.
Two holdout rebel groups refused to join the deal, including the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) led by Abdelwahid Nour, a faction which is believed to maintain considerable support.
Localised clashes over land and access to water still occur, mainly pitting nomadic Arab pastoralists against crop-growing farmers from long marginalised ethnic groups.