Annan backs expelled envoy

On Sunday Sudan gave Mr Pronk three days to leave the country, accusing him of overstepping his mandate.

But Mr Annan’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that Mr Pronk’s status “remained unchanged” and that the UN was recalling him “temporarily for consultations”.

“He continues to be the special representative of the secretary general serving with the full support of the secretary general in that capacity,” Mr Dujarric said.

The 66-year-old Pronk said he would fly to New York Monday to consult with Mr Annan and other senior UN officials. Mr Dujarric said Mr Pronk was not due there until Wednesday.

Expulsion order

Mr Pronk said he had a meeting Sunday with Sudanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali Karti, who gave him a letter for Mr Annan informing him that Khartoum considers the envoy’s mission in Sudan “terminated”.

At issue is Mr Pronk’s personal weblog entry of the 14th October in which he said that the Sudanese army had suffered major losses and was working with elements linked to the Janjaweed, a pro-government militia accused of gross abuses against ethnic minority civilians in Darfur.

The UN envoy also claimed that morale among Sudanese government troops was low.

The Sudanese military responded by accusing Mr Pronk of “waging psychological warfare on the armed forces by propagating erroneous information that cast doubts about the capability of the armed forces in maintaining security and defending the country”.

UN in real bind: diplomat

Despite Mr Annan’s expression of support for Mr Pronk, a UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Dutch official had put the world body in a real bind.

Queried about Mr Pronk’s blog comments last week, Mr Dujarric said they reflected his “personal views.”

As to the propriety of having a senior UN official sound off on policy matters in a personal blog, Mr Dujarric replied: “Staff regulations have not kept up with technology”.

He also said that Mr Annan had fairly liberal views on allowing UN staffers to express themselves freely but added: “They (staffers) need to exercise proper judgment in doing so.”

International concern

Khartoum’s expulsion touched off broad international condemnation, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice describing it as “unfortunate in the extreme” and pledging to consult with Mr Annan.

Britain slammed the move as “counter-productive” and urged Khartoum to reconsider its decision.

France expressed “regret” and voiced hope for continuing dialogue between the UN and Khartoum “in a cooperative spirit”.

The European Union voiced deep concern and stressed that “the United Nations plays a key role which must be reinforced”.

Mr Pronk has long been a thorn in the side of the Khartoum government.

He has openly called Sudan a “police state” and said refugees in Darfur were victims of “Arabic racism”.

The flap over Pronk’s latest comments complicate delicate diplomatic efforts to persuade Khartoum to reverse its decision not to allow a robust UN force to take over peacekeeping in Darfur from ill-equipped and underfunded African Union (AU) troops.