Home | News    Thursday 2 August 2007

Sudan endorses UN resolution on Darfur force

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August 1, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — Sudan ended months of stonewalling on Wednesday by endorsing a U.N. resolution to send peacekeepers to Darfur, raising hopes for a force that could for the first time provide real protection to civilians in one of the world’s most embattled regions.

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Lam Akol

"We announce our acceptance of the resolution," Foreign Minister Lam Akol told journalists the day after the council unanimously approved the 26,000-strong force.

If fully deployed, the troops would be the United Nation’s largest peacekeeping operation and, under the U.N. resolution passed Tuesday, would be under orders to prevent attacks against civilians.

Attack helicopters expected to be sent in would give the troops a major edge in moving quickly across the large territory in central Africa — about the size of France — to stop attacks by Arab janjaweed militias on villages.

After months of diplomatic wrangling aimed at replacing an under-equipped AU force of 7,000, the resolution authorised the world’s largest peacekeeping force for what the UN has called the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe.

In addition to the huge death toll, more than one third of Darfur’s six-million population has been displaced because of what the United States has branded a genocidal campaign by Khartoum against rebels.

The new force, which could begin deploying in October, will take over from the current AU mission to patrol a vast and mostly arid area in western Sudan roughly the size of France.

Akol also announced "our engagement in applying the part that concerns us" in Resolution 1769, after Khartoum finally agreed to the hybrid force on July 12 on condition that it be comprised essentially of African troops.

"This resolution is a result of long and tedious consultations involving lots of people and the Sudanese government," Akol said. "This is the first time a country involved in the resolution takes part in the consultations."

Besides requiring acceptance of the deployment, the resolution urges Khartoum and rebel groups to commit themselves to a permanent ceasefire and to join peace talks under AU-UN mediation.

President Omar al-Bashir had resisted for months a push to send U.N. peacekeepers. But Sudan agreed in June to a compromise deal for the African Union to deploy jointly with the U.N. in a "hybrid force" to end the violence.

Acceptance of the new mission marked a major turnaround for Khartoum. Al-Bashir said last year he viewed U.N. blue helmets as a neocolonial force and would personally lead the resistance against them if they deployed.

The United States ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad had warned of "the swift adoption of unilateral and multilateral measures" against Khartoum if it failed to comply with the resolution.

Akol said the resolution "responded to several of Sudan’s reserves and concerns" and "only permits the use of force in self-defence" and to "protect civilians in conflict zones without damaging Sudan’s sovereignty."

"We can live with the resolution and will undertake to implement our part of the resolution and expect others to do the same," he said of the resolution UN chief Ban Ki-moon hailed as "historic and unprecedented."

Sudan has a long history of obstructing any international presence in Darfur, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Wednesday the United States would watch out for any Sudanese backtracking.

"We are expecting the Sudanese government to live up to the commitments it is making," she said, speaking during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

To avoid a veto from China, Khartoum’s top diplomatic ally, the Security Council repeatedly watered down its new resolution, dropping a crucial provision for additional sanctions against Khartoum if it obstructs U.N. peace efforts. It also removed a provision allowing the force to actively disarm militias and rebels.

"This force is only going to have a significant impact on security (for Darfurians) if two things happen: a sufficient deployment of troops with requisite material, and a real political agreement for peace in Darfur," said Colin Thomas-Jensen, a Sudan expert at the Enough Project, a U.S.-based research and advocacy group.

Western activists warned that Khartoum could eviscerate the new Darfur mission by, for instance, not granting entry visas to blue helmets, holding up key military gear at customs or impeding contractors sent in to build peacekeeping bases.

"That kind of obstruction is likely how Sudan is going to try to slow down and eventually kill the deployment of this force, which I’m fully confident it’s going to try to do," said Larry Rossin, head of the Save Darfur Coalition. "It will do it like that rather than by frontally rejecting the resolution."

"It is unlikely that anything will be on the ground before the end of the year," said Tom Cargill, Africa expert at London’s Chatham House think-tank.

He said it would take some time to bring together a largely African force, noting also that Khartoum has been "incredibly successful diplomatically" by taking "advantage of divisions between Council members."

Cargill pointed out that after several rewrites to get key Sudan ally China to accept the draft, the explicit threat of further sanctions had been removed, meaning the resolution "puts up the pressure but it’s not coercive."

Besides the attacks unleashed by Sudanese troops and Khartoum’s proxy militia the Janjaweed in 2003, fighting between rival Arab tribes over Darfur’s scarce resources continues to kill hundreds.

The UN refugee agency on Wednesday said the new force would be crucial to relief management in Darfur.

"Right now we cannot move: convoys of food come under attack... The situation can’t get much worse," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond.

The new resolution authorises the UN-AU force to take "the necessary action" under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter to protect its personnel, ensure security and freedom of movement for humanitarian workers, prevent attacks and threats against civilians.

London-based Sudan specialist Douglas Johnson said that "the general consensus is that this resolution is a start. It will make it more difficult for (Khartoum’s) military operations of a formal sort to continue in Darfur."

It "probably will encourage the factions within Darfur to take peace negotiations more seriously than they have so far," he said, while warning that Khartoum would try to restrict the mission’s functioning.

He said the resolution gives peacekeepers "a clear mandate to protect themselves but it doesn’t give them a clear mandate to protect civilians and it’s the main point of a peacekeeping force to protect civilians."

London-based rights group Amnesty International welcomed the resolution but said the mission must deploy immediately.

"The truth is the people of Darfur are living in the midst of a massive humanitarian and human rights crisis," Amnesty chief Irene Khan warned.

"They can wait no longer for protection. It must be delivered immediately, effectively and with a full mandate to protect civilians from further violence."

The resolution notably also does not authorise foreign troops to pursue alleged war criminals sought by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

An official in Tripoli meanwhile said that rebel groups that had not signed a peace deal in May 2006 have now adopted a joint position ahead of fresh talks beginning on Friday in Arusha, Tanzania.

(AFP/AP)

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