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UNITAMIS Head in Sudan: We Aren’t ‘New Colonialists’

UNITAMIS Head in Sudan: We Aren’t ‘New Colonialists’

Thursday, 6 May, 2021 - 09:00
The head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) Volker Perthes, (Photo Credit: Mubarak al-Kurdi)

The international community is willing to aid political change in Sudan and advance the peace process with the participation of non-signatories to democratic transition agreements, said the head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS).

"With the help of the international community and foreign actors, they agreed to a power-sharing partnership, an experience that does not exist in other countries in the region," Volker Perthes told Asharq Al-Awsat about how Sudan's civilian and military authorities have come together to realize political transformation.

Although UNITAMS does not finance any development projects in the North African state, it is constantly pressing the international community to help and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

"The mission works with the government, the transitional authority, civil society, and party institutions," verified Perthes, adding that even with its small size, UNITAMS is undertaking big and arduous tasks.

"We are seeking the assistance of some additional experts, and some UN countries are helping us with this," he said while revealing that UNITAMS will be 269-employees-strong by next year.

"So far, about 50 UNITAMS personnel are in Sudan," said Perthes, noting that the mission has an estimated $30 million.

UNITAMS is also currently working in concert with other international organizations to run specialized programs in the struggling nation and has plans to set up an election support department focused on training experts in state institutions and personnel forming election committees.

"The mission's work is integrated with other UN agencies and institutions present in Sudan, and these agencies participate in the development and implementation of specialized programs, such as taking the census and holding elections," noted Perthes.

As for the UN operation's challenges, Perthes mentions UNITAMS struggling with local political rivalries and rumors accusing the mission of having a colonialist agenda.

"Because of the complex history between Sudan and the various missions, rumors spread from certain quarters that we are 'new colonialists' and that I am the country's governor-general," he explained.

Spread on social media, stories of UNITAMS bringing back colonial rule are being told by political adversaries using the mission to settle scores among each other.

"I am the head of mission and a coordinator of all UN agencies. I am not a ruler, and I have no arms or a peacekeeping force," said Perthes in his defense, adding that his strongest weapon is his word.

"We are now in the final stage of negotiating with the Sudanese government on the status of the mission," he affirmed, stressing that even though UNITAMS is a diplomatic mission, it doesn't mean they are ambassadors of any country.

When asked about how tensions between Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia will affect the mission, Perthes reminded that mediation between the two countries was a job for the UN secretary-general.

"Ethiopia's internal conflict and the Sudanese-Ethiopian border dispute is affecting Sudan, and it is my role, as the UN special representative, to inform the secretary-general of these developments," he said.

"I do not have the authority to play a role in mediation between the two countries, because this ask is within the prerogative of the secretary-general. Certainly, if I did intervene, the Ethiopians would view me as a biased party," added Perthes.

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