European Union’s Barroso calls for flexibility in UN-Darfur row

EL-FASHER, Sudan — Sudan and Western nations must be flexible enough to find a formula that will allow the United Nations to help improve security in Darfur, the head of the European Union’s executive body said on Sunday.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is on a two-day trip to Sudan as part of efforts to break an impasse over Khartoum’s refusal to allow a UN force to take over peacekeeping duties in its troubled western region.

“The UN has to be present here in a more effective way,” Barroso told reporters on a flight across Africa’s largest country to Darfur, where a three-year-old conflict has killed some 200,000 people and driven millions from their homes.

Barroso flew on Sunday from Sudan’s capital Khartoum, where he met President Omar Hassan Bashir on Saturday, to Darfur’s main town of El-Fasher, where 7,000 ill-equipped and underfunded African Union troops (AU) are struggling to keep the peace.

The United Nations has already passed a resolution to create a 20,000-strong force for Darfur. Khartoum says it will not allow UN peacekeepers in and calls the proposal a Western attempt to re-colonise the country. Sudan was a British colony.

Western nations insist Khartoum must reconsider its objections. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier this week that Sudan had to accept the UN mission or face confrontation with the international community.

Barroso said Western nations must face the fact that Sudan had rejected the UN force and that it was necessary to find a workable formula before the AU mission ends on Dec. 31.

“My goal is not to discuss the formula, it is an instrument, our goal is peace,” he said.

Trojan horse

Bashir reiterated his opposition to a UN force on Saturday night, talking about a hidden agenda and an American Trojan horse, a member of the European Commission delegation said.

But Barroso said he believed Bashir understood the current situation was not sustainable and the potential loss to Khartoum’s international standing if it continued to refuse.

“It is not in the interest of Sudan to come back to a situation of complete isolation,” Barroso said.

AU officials and the soldiers protecting them met Barroso and his entourage as they stepped off the plane at the airport serving El Fasher.

Northern Darfur’s governor Yousif Kabir also hailed Barroso’s arrival on Sunday by saying the situation in Darfur had improved and that international troops were not wanted.

“They will not be welcome by our people” he said.

The fighting in Darfur began when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglect.

Washington calls the rape, pillage and murder that has forced 2.5 million from their homes genocide, and blames the Sudanese government and its allied militia, known as Janjaweed.

Khartoum rejects the charge but the International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes in Darfur.

A May peace agreement between the government and one of three rebel factions was initially heralded as a breakthrough.

But aid workers say violence has escalated.

Barroso and EU aid commissioner Louis Michel, who is travelling with him, are set to question the African Union on Monday about peacekeeping in Darfur in a meeting of the EU executive body and the African Union Commission in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

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