Call for dispatch of UN troops to Darfur with Khartoum’s consent

UNITED NATIONS — Britain on Tuesday circulated a revised draft resolution in the Security Council urging the deployment of UN troops in Sudan’s Darfur region with Khartoum’s consent, hoping to put it to a vote by Thursday.

In a bid to sway Khartoum, which adamantly opposes the dispatch of a robust UN force in the strife-torn region, the amended US-British draft specifically states that the UN peacekeepers would be deployed “on the basis of the acceptance of the [Sudanese] government.”  The text was to be discussed Wednesday morning during consultations of the 15-member council ahead of a vote which British and US diplomats hope will take place by Thursday.

As an earlier version put forward August 17, the new text calls for a 17,000-strong UN force to take over from the ill-equipped and under-funded African Union (AU) mission, which has been unable to prevent killings, rape and the internal displacement of civilians in Darfur.

Although Khartoum has made it abundantly clear that it opposes a handover of peacekeeping from the AU to the UN, British and US diplomats said they would not be deterred.

“We are still going to try to have that vote by Thursday. I think that’s feasible to do,” US Ambassador John Bolton said. “The discussions continue, but we think we are pretty close.” Bolton said nobody expected the UN force to have to fight its way into Darfur, but deploying UN peacekeepers is seen as crucial to the success of a fragile Darfur peace agreement signed by the Khartoum government and the main rebel faction in May.

The draft said the mission would be carried by expanding the mandate of the 12,273-strong United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) currently operating in the vast African country and urged “member states to provide the capability for an expeditious deployment.” UNMIS was created in March 2005 to help maintain the tenuous peace between Sudan’s government and former southern rebels who in January of that year signed a peace agreement after 21 years of civil war.

Its role was also to liaise with AU forces working in Darfur.

The new draft calls for raising UNMIS strength to up to 17,300 troops and up to 3,300 civilian police to monitor implementation of the Darfur peace deal, deploy to buffer zones and refugee camps and to work with Sudanese authorities in rebuilding shattered institutions.

Acting under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which authorises military action in cases of threats to international peace and security, the UN force would be mandated to use all necessary means to protect UN personnel, humanitarian workers and Darfur civilians.

The force would also oversee the return of internally displaced persons and coordinate international efforts to protect the civilian population from pro-government Janjaweed militia.

In Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar Bashir again rebuffed a plea from Washington’s top Africa envoy Tuesday to allow a UN force into Darfur, after forcing her to extend her visit to secure a meeting at all.

Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, had brought with her an invitation from US President George W. Bush to meet him on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month, Bashir’s spokesman Majoub Fadl Badri said after the talks.

“We are not advocates of confrontation with the world, but we shall never accept the transition of the AU mandate to any organisation, and we shall never agree to the AU troops changing their hats from [AU] green to [UN] blue,” Beshir said.

However, the State Department said Bashir would send an envoy to Washington in the near future.

“I don’t have a specific timetable for it. I would expect we are talking within the next couple of weeks,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

Decades of ethnic tensions in Darfur erupted into all-out violence in 2003 when ethnic minorities took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum to fight for autonomy and a greater share of the region’s resources.

Washington accuses Sudanese government troops and their proxy Janjaweed militia of genocide in their fierce repression of the uprising.

And Bashir, in turn, charges that Washington and other Western powers are furthering imperialist plans in Darfur, and the recent Israeli offensive in Lebanon only appeared to consolidate his opposition to a UN deployment.

The combined effect of war and famine has left up to 300,000 people dead in Darfur and displaced more than two million.

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