UNITED NATIONS -- The world body's top envoy to Sudan said yesterday that al-Qaida has threatened him and any peacekeeping troops deployed there from outside Africa, after the Sudanese government's rejection of a pending United Nations force meant to protect civilians in the country's war-torn Darfur region.
U.N. Special Envoy Jan Pronk said the government in Khartoum deeply distrusts foreign intervention and fears that the presence of a United Nations or NATO force would be the beginning of a foreign occupation such as those that have taken place in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The United Nations is drawing up plans to transform a 7,000-strong African Union force into a U.N.-led operation as the regional troops run out of funding and logistical support. On Saturday, Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir denounced the U.N. plan to field a force of up to 20,000 troops, some from outside Africa, to quell the continuing violence in Darfur.
President Bush said Feb. 17 that the number of peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur should be doubled, perhaps with the support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
El-Bashir responded Saturday that such international troops would be at risk.
"We are strongly opposed to any foreign intervention in Sudan, and Darfur will be a graveyard for any foreign troops venturing to enter," he said in Khartoum.
El-Bashir summoned Pronk on Monday to underline his government's insistence on African troops.
Pronk returned to the United Nations yesterday and told reporters that there is an "atmosphere of fear and conspiracy" in Khartoum.
"They speak about recolonization, invasion, and they speak about Iraq and Afghanistan, and they speak about a conspiracy against the Arab and Islamic world," the U.N. envoy said.
The heated political climate in Khartoum has made negotiations over the next step difficult, Pronk said, describing intelligence information that suggested that al-Qaida terrorists were present in the Sudanese capital and had made death threats against him and any U.N. troops that might be deployed to the country.
Sudan's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Omar Manis, reiterated his government's objections to the mission but questioned Pronk's reports of al-Qaida threats.
Manis said Khartoum prefers African troops to international soldiers, even if the existing force is absorbed by a U.N. mission.
Pronk said the political stalemate must be broken because attacks against villagers in the Darfur region were again becoming frequent. He described attacks in which thousands of Arab militiamen on camel and horseback, followed by government army trucks, plundered Darfur. He also reported new attacks on refugee camps across the border in neighboring Chad.
The militias, often backed by the Khartoum government, have been razing villages in the region of western Sudan since rebel groups took up arms against the government in 2003. Hundreds of thousands of non-Arab villagers have been killed in the government-orchestrated campaign to oust the ethnic groups that supported the rebels, according to the United Nations, and more than 2 million people have been displaced.
Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times.