Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sudan Inclined to Reject U.N. Peacekeeping Offer

Sudan Inclined to Reject U.N. Peacekeeping Offer

From the Los Angeles Times

President Bashir tells visiting officials from the world body that he doesn't want his nation to be at the mercy of foreign troops, like Iraq.
By Maggie Farley
Times Staff Writer

June 7, 2006

KHARTOUM, Sudan — President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir presides over this country still raw from 21 years of civil war and still suffering from marauding by militias in the Darfur region. But on Tuesday, he told U.N. officials that he didn't want the world body's help.

Representatives of the United Nations Security Council are in Sudan this week to persuade the government to accept a 20,000-strong peacekeeping force that might help end the violence in Darfur and make the western region safe for millions of displaced people to return home.

But Bashir on Tuesday told ambassadors and deputies representing the council's 15 members that he was not convinced, wary that opening the door to more peacekeepers and aid workers was an invitation to occupation of his country. He declared that he didn't want Sudan to become another Iraq at the mercy of foreign troops he couldn't dismiss, diplomats who attended the meeting said.

An editorial in the Sudanese newspaper Rayal Shaab on Monday called the council mission "a visit from an unwelcome guest." Ordinary Sudanese too are suspicious of the U.N.

"We don't call for help. Why are they coming without our calling?" said Hafiz Abbas, 50, a manager of a small paving stone company in Khartoum, the capital. "We are afraid because of what happened to Iraq and Vietnam before. They are coming because the U.S. and other big countries want something from Sudan, like our oil. What are they really after?"

The leader of the Security Council delegation, British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, said the envoys spent the day trying to reassure Sudanese officials.

"There is no question this is an intervention force," he said. "We gave the clear message that any force will be here with the consent and cooperation of the Sudanese government."

The new force is meant to take over peacekeeping on Oct. 1 from 7,000 African Union troops and military observers who have proved to be too few and ill-equipped to be effective, even after a May 5 peace agreement between the government and one of three rebel groups in Darfur.

A resolution creating the operation must first be approved by the Security Council, which is still quietly divided over whether the measure should allow troops to use force and whether sanctions should be imposed on Sudan at some point. The peacekeepers also must be accepted by Khartoum.

Jones Parry said a Chapter VII provision of the U.N. Charter allowing the use of force is not open-ended and would not be "targeted at the government but at those who want to undermine the [peace] agreement."

A Sudanese official said that the situation in Darfur was exceedingly fragile and that the U.N. should not rush into an operation that could upset the balance. But the region has been a tinderbox for three years. After an attempted coup by two rebel groups in 2003, it is widely believed that the government unleashed makeshift militias to terrorize the villages that were home to the rebels.

About 2 million people there have been forced to flee their homes by militias said to be linked to the government, and as many as 200,000 have died from disease and violence.

Khartoum has denied backing the militias, but U.N. investigators have found enough evidence tying the government to the proxy armies to establish a list of 51 officials who might be prosecuted for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

The fear that the U.N. troops might act as an arm of the ICC and arrest government officials may be an underlying factor in the resistance to new peacekeepers, diplomats and Sudanese opposition leaders say.

"Every government official from the ministers to the president now has immunity from judicial action here," said Hassan Turabi, an influential religious figure and opposition leader. "That's why they don't want the U.N. to come in with international justice.

"They say it is a matter of sovereignty, but they are afraid of being arrested."

The U.N. has slowly established a broad presence in the beleaguered country.

There are 10,000 peacekeeping troops in the south to help implement a recent peace agreement that ended a separate two-decade-long civil war. The U.N.'s World Food Program distributes more food in Sudan than anywhere. More than 1,000 international aid workers span the country, building wells and clinics and running camps for villagers who left everything behind when the attackers rampaged through Darfur.

But the government hasn't made it easy, blocking access, delaying visas and applying what one diplomat called "systematic procrastination" to limit outsiders' entree and inhibit their movements once in the country.

Jones Parry said that he made an emphatic case to Sudanese officials to improve access for humanitarian workers, implying that blocking their work could lead to sanctions under the most recent of seven resolutions on Sudan. "What we need is guaranteed continual access. No obstructionism," he said. "If you start impeding the agreement, the Security Council will be watching very carefully."

The 10-day trip takes the council representatives from Khartoum to southern Sudan and Darfur, on to neighboring Chad and then to African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The mission winds up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is host to what is currently the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping operation, numbering nearly 18,000 troops.

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