UN seeks to persuade Sudan to accept peacekeepers

KHARTOUM (Reuters) — Senior diplomats will seek to persuade Khartoum on Tuesday to accept UN peacekeepers in the violent Darfur region after UN chief Kofi Annan accused Sudan of violating international law.

Despite a peace deal signed by the government and the main Darfur rebel group on May 5, dozens have been killed in clashes between rebels and government-armed Arab militias. An African Union (AU) peacekeeping force is cash-strapped and ill-equipped.

Khartoum, under international pressure to accept a transition to UN peacekeepers, initially resisted and said such a deployment would cause an Iraq-like quagmire that would attract Islamist militants into attacking the UN troops.

But since the peace deal was struck, the government has softened its stance and says it does not reject a UN force but wants to be consulted about its mandate in Darfur — an arid ethnically mixed region the size of France.

Veteran troubleshooter Lakhdar Brahimi and UN peacekeeping head Hedi Annabi were to hold two days of talks with Sudanese government leaders, including President Omar Hassan Bashir. “We are hoping that we can work out an agreement with the government because … this (deployment) should not be done without the agreement of the government,” said UN deputy spokesman Bahaa Elkoussy.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution this month that envisages UN peacekeepers taking over from 7,000 AU troops.

The AU force has been monitoring a widely ignored truce in Darfur, but since the May 5 deal Arab militias known locally as Janjaweed have grown bolder and attacked towns where the AU has bases. More than 250,000 people have fled their homes since the beginning of the year because of the conflict. Frustrated Darfuris have begun to attack the AU force, killing an interpreter earlier this month.

Annan warned the Sudanese government that its restrictions on supplies and relief workers in Darfur was a violation of international humanitarian law.

He said in a report to the UN Security Council on Monday that atrocities, including rape and pillaging, were swelling the population in squalid camps, now about 2.5 million. Rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing the Arab-dominated central government of neglecting Darfur. Khartoum armed mostly Arab tribes to crush the rebels.

Despite intense international pressure two of the three rebel Darfur groups involved in peace negotiations refused to sign the May 5 deal, saying it was unfair.

The AU said on Monday Janjaweed militiamen were massing in North and South Darfur and attacking villages and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) accused the government of violating the accord by attacking SLA bases in Dar El Salaam in North Darfur and flying Antonov planes over rebel areas.

The government denied the accusation. 

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