Khartoum rejects U.N. force for Darfur

September 01, 2006|By Maggie Farley | Maggie Farley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council voted yesterday to send a new peacekeeping force to Sudan's troubled western Darfur region, but the Sudanese government immediately rejected the resolution as "illegal."

The rejection heightened diplomats' concerns about a looming humanitarian crisis in the region, where an African Union contingent has been largely unable to protect civilians and monitor a cease-fire.

The Sudanese government in the capital, Khartoum, said yesterday that the U.N. force is unwelcome and that its own soldiers will pacify the region in tandem with the African Union troops.

"Our stand is very clear, that the Sudanese government has not been consulted and it is not appropriate to pass a resolution before they seek the permission of Sudan," presidential adviser Ali Tamim Fartak told the Reuters news service. Another presidential adviser, Majzoub al-Khalifa, told the Arab satellite television channel Al-Jazeera that the U.N. resolution was "illegal."

The Sudanese government has begun massing forces in Darfur and told the United Nations that it would deploy 10,500 troops to stabilize the region. U.N. officials, however, believe that Khartoum is preparing an offensive against rebel groups that did not sign a recent peace agreement and have started scattered attacks on government troops.

U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland warned this week of "hundreds of thousands of deaths" if another conflict causes aid operations to collapse. Humanitarian workers are at grave risk because of increasing violence and lack of funds, he said.

The International Red Cross confirmed yesterday that a staff member had been kidnapped and killed in an attack on a food convoy by unidentified fighters.

Three years of conflict involving government forces, their allied militias, and rebel groups have caused an estimated 200,000 deaths and displaced about 2 million others. The government signed a peace agreement with one rebel group in May, but other anti-government factions refused and have stepped up their attacks.

The resolution passed yesterday "invites the consent" of the Sudanese government for the deployment of up to 17,300 troops, 3,300 civilian police, and technical support for the 7,000-member African Union force. China, Russia and Qatar abstained from the vote because they object to deployment without Sudan's explicit permission.

The United States and Britain, the co-sponsors of the resolution, urged quick action to ensure that the U.N. force could begin deploying by Oct. 1, when the African Union mandate expires.

"Every day we delay only adds to the suffering of the Sudanese people and extends the genocide," U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton told the Security Council.

Bolton told reporters that the United Nations can begin to send equipment and a limited number of troops immediately to support the African Union mission, based on a previous resolution to which Khartoum has assented. He said that he hoped that Khartoum would agree to an expanded U.N. force in Darfur, or at least not block it.

"The resolution simply said we invite their consent," he said. "I think what we need is acquiescence. It would be nice to have cooperation. But the U.N.'s role should proceed, the planning should proceed; the operational work should be done and, as they say, silence gives consent."

Tanzanian Ambassador Augustine Mahiga said that quietly allowing a buildup, ostensibly in support of the African Union force, could be "a face-saving approach" for Khartoum, but said he hoped that the Sudanese government would cooperate more directly with the United Nations and its aid agencies.

"I think it would be good to get clearer signals from Sudan than to do it surreptitiously or through the back door," he said.

The resolution refers obliquely to the world's "responsibility to protect" civilians under siege by their own governments, a proviso endorsed by world leaders last September at a U.N. summit. But no one is willing to "fight their way in" to Sudan against the government's wishes, Bolton said.

In Washington, the State Department's top official on Africa, Jendayi Frazer, told reporters that she was "absolutely confident" that Sudan's president eventually would consent to the U.N. force. She returned from Khartoum on Wednesday after meeting with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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