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Nov 25, 1:29 PM EST

Sudan increases pressure on UN Darfur mission

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CAIRO (AP) -- The Sudanese government asked the joint-U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur to shut down its human rights office in the capital, the peacekeepers said Tuesday, increasing pressure on the mission's work in the conflict-torn region.

Last week, Khartoum asked the mission to prepare its plans to leave Darfur, the large western region of Sudan where U.N. reports say the situation has worsened this year, with more than 300,000 people fleeing their homes because of violence.

Tensions between the government and the mission, known as UNAMID, rose after the mission sought to investigate allegations that more than 200 women were raped by forces allied to the government in the north Darfur village of Tabit.

The government has already denied the mission access to Tabit. The mission carried out a brief visit to the village escorted by government troops and was unable to carry out an investigation. Repeated requests from the mission and the United Nations to allow the mission unfettered access have been unanswered.

UNAMID spokesman Ashraf Eissa said the government on Monday requested the human rights office be shut down, claiming it was a new section. Eissa said the office is part of the mission's liaison office in Khartoum.

"UNAMID is working to clarify the role of the Khartoum liaison office and human rights office with the Sudanese authorities," he said.

UNAMID, one with the highest budgets of the U.N. peacekeeping forces, has five major branches in Darfur provinces, in addition to the liaison office in Khartoum. The mission has nearly 20,000 members.

Sudanese government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Foreign Ministry official Abdullah Hamad al-Azraq denied the request for the mission to prepare its exit strategy was related to the rape investigation. He said it was coming after the "restoration of stability" in Darfur, according to the state news agency SUNA.

Al-Azraq accused mission members of misconduct that goes unreported, including rape and sexual harassment.

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