Sudan must stop trying to limit Darfur force — Rice

Sudan must stop trying to “scale back” a hybrid international force for Darfur, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said as she flew to Paris for talks on the humanitarian crisis in the western Sudanese region.The aim of the force is to stop the violence in Darfur, where international experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been expelled from their homes in more than four years of strife. Sudan says 9,000 people have died.

Sudan on June 12 agreed to a combined United Nations and African Union (AU) peacekeeping force of more than 20,000 troops and police but many diplomats doubt Khartoum will keep its word.

They are also dismayed Sudan has sent mixed signals about the force, saying it that should be under the AU’s command and control rather than that of the United Nations, and suggesting it should chiefly be comprised of African forces. The existing force of about 7,000 AU troops is widely seen as ineffective.

“I’d like to have everybody, the Chinese included, tell the Sudanese in no uncertain terms that there is no other option and that they need to stop agreeing to terms and then trying to scale them back,” Rice told reporters.

Among those expected to attend Monday’s meeting on Darfur are senior officials from France, the United States, Egypt and China, which has been reluctant to impose sanctions on Khartoum, one of its oil suppliers.

“The Chinese have been more outspoken about the need to get this done but I do think that there is still more that will need to be done by China and by everyone to make sure that the Sudanese are finally going to carry through,” Rice said.

The United States has been pushing for a new Security Council resolution against Sudan, something China has resisted.

Rice suggested no decisions on this were likely soon.

Rice said she was grateful to new French President Nicolas Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for having convened Monday’s meeting on Darfur and US officials hope it may herald an improved relationship with France.

She described the meeting as a “good opportunity to divvy up the work, if you will, to make sure that everybody’s pushing in the same direction.” The United States had deep differences with former French president Jacques Chirac, whose opposition to the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq embittered relations with the Bush administration.

US officials have also complained that the previous French government did too little on Darfur.

“They (the new French government) have signalled a strong desire for cooperation and we certainly are looking forward to a period of great cooperation,” Rice said, saying she also expected to discuss Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Kosovo and the Arab-Israeli conflict with French officials.

“France is taking a new and I think energising role in Darfur… and really we need the energy on Darfur because it’s not moving quickly enough to deal with the significant humanitarian crisis there,” she added.

The Darfur problem dates back to early 2003 when non-Arab rebels took up arms, accusing the government of not heeding their plight in the remote, arid region. Khartoum mobilised Arab militia, known locally as Janjaweed, to quell the revolt.

The Janjaweed embarked on a campaign of killing, pillaging and rape. In the past year rebel groups have fought each other and also attacked civilians.

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