Home | News    Friday 23 June 2006

Joint army-rebel force could bolster AU troops in Darfur - Sudan

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June 22, 2006 (THE HAGUE) — Arguing against the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers, a Sudanese government minister said Thursday that a joint unit of 10,000 government and rebel troops could help a beleaguered African Union force keep the peace in Darfur.

Finance Secretary Lhual Deng was speaking after two days of talks in the Hague by representatives of the main rebel group, the government and international organizations including the U.N., World Bank and African Union on rebuilding Darfur.

Delegates agreed to set up working groups to look into how to begin rebuilding villages destroyed during three years of war in the region of western Sudan ahead of a donor conference planned for October.

Speaking to reporters, Deng reiterated the Sudanese government’s objection to allowing U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.

"People jump to U.N. troops as if they are the answer to everything," he said.

Deng said a unit comprised of 5,000 members of the Sudan Armed Forces and 5,000 fighters from the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army could beef up the African Union mission, which has failed to rein in more than three years of violence.

"These troops can be used to...maintain law and order in Darfur," Deng said, adding that such units already exist elsewhere in Sudan.

Nearly 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur and more than 2 million displaced since rebel groups made up of ethnic Africans rose up against the Arab-led Khartoum government in early 2003.

The government has denied accusations that it responded by unleashing Arab militias known as the janjaweed, who allegedly were responsible for some of the worst atrocities.

Although Darfur’s main rebel group and the government have signed a peace agreement meant to end the three years of fighting, an underfunded and ill-equipped African Union force of 7,000 troops faces hostility in the region and has appealed for the U.N. to take over its job.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir this week ratcheted up anti-U.N. rhetoric, saying he would lead resistance to such a force and accusing Jewish groups of pushing for the U.N. mission.

Speaking Thursday in Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he hopes the president will change his mind.

"The talks continue and I hope ultimately we will be able to convince them to accept a U.N. force," Annan told reporters.

"No one, and least of all the U.N., is interested in imposing anything like a colonial rule on one of its member states, and of course that was one of the fears President Bashir used in rejecting the U.N. presence," he added.

Mohammed Eltijani Eltayeb, of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, which is working with the government to restore peace, said he would be happy to see U.N. troops in Darfur.

"If they are ready to help us maintain order and law, they are welcome," he said.

Conference delegates in the Hague agreed to send teams of experts to Darfur to assess what needs to be done to rebuild the region and bring home people forced from their homes by the conflict. The teams will draw up a draft reconstruction plan for the donor conference.

In a closing statement, both the government and rebels agreed they needed to bolster security, even if they can’t agree on how to do it.

"The Sudanese government and the SLM stated that they would do their utmost to improve the security situation which is currently deteriorating," they wrote.

(ST/AP)

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