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Al-Bashir's pledge for Darfur peace thrown into doubt

Sudan ambassador's comments to media places limitations on U.N. peacekeepers

Al-Bashir's pledge for Darfur peace thrown into doubt

The U.N. Security Council welcomed the Sudanese president's commitment to a U.N. plan to help end the escalating conflict in Darfur culminating in the deployment of a "hybrid" African Union-United Nations force - but minutes later Sudan's U.N. ambassador flatly ruled out any U.N. peacekeeping troops in Darfur.
The ambassador's comments Wednesday to reporters at the end of a Security Council meeting to discuss Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan supposedly endorsing the U.N.'s three-step package raised serious questions about the Sudanese leader's commitment to Annan's plan for a hybrid force.
Annan had told the Sudanese president in a letter earlier this month that every effort would be made to find African troops for a hybrid force of 17,300 military personnel and 5,300 police, but if that proved impossible the U.N. would use "a broader pool of troop contributing countries."
The U.N. chief told reporters Wednesday that an African Union communique indicated that the size of the hybrid force should be determined by an on-the-ground assessment undertaken jointly by the AU and the U.N.
"It's not a political issue, it's a technical determination," he said.
Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem told reporters on Wednesday that the hybrid force must be smaller and have no U.N. peacekeepers in traditional blue helmets, only African troops supported by U.N. technical and logistical experts.
"We are not talking about two armies by the African Union and the United Nations doing their job in Darfur. Rather the force is African, the leader is an African, and the logistical and technical support is by the United Nations," he said.
"This three-phased plan is to augment the Africa forces - and not replace them," Abdalhaleem said. "There is no blue helmet peacekeepers in Darfur. There is support and logistical support staff by the U.N., wearing their own helmets, but they are not going to engage in peacekeeping activities."
Al-Bashir said in the letter to Annan released Tuesday and discussed by the council on Wednesday that Sudan is ready "to start immediately" to implement two recent agreements that endorsed the three-step U.N. plan to beef up the beleaguered 7,000-strong African Union force in Darfur.
Annan emerged from Wednesday's council meeting telling reporters that "the president has accepted the three-phased approach as a package," and that council members "are encouraged by the positive tone" of al-Bashir's letter.
But Annan urged the United Nations to quickly test al-Bashir's commitment to the package in order to allay skepticism that his words won't be followed by action.
He told reporters there were "some doubts and hesitations" because "there have been so many disappointments" after past promises by the Sudanese leader that weren't kept.
"This is a challenge for the Sudanese government to prove to the international community that it means business, it stands by the letter it has written to me ... and it stands by its discussions with my envoy," he said.
Commitment to peace
In a press statement later, the council welcomed al-Bashir's letter in which he reconfirmed his commitment to implement a November 16 meeting of key Sudanese and international diplomats in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the November 30 summit of the African Union's Peace and Security Council in Abuja, Nigeria, which endorsed the three-step U.N. plan.
In the letter, al-Bashir said the agreements "constitute a viable framework for peaceful settlement to the conflict in Darfur."
The council statement singled out al-Bashir's commitment "to bring about cessation of hostilities, to revitalize the political process and to allow the immediate implementation of the U.N. three-phased support plan to the AU, culminating in the deployment of a hybrid U.N.-AU force in Darfur."
Annan told reporters the first phase of the U.N. package was already being implemented "and we're going to accelerate that - and, of course, that's a way of testing the government's willingness to cooperate."
It would add 105 military officers, 33 U.N. police, 48 international staffers, 36 armored personnel carriers, night-vision goggles, and Global Positioning equipment to the African Union force, according to a U.N. report last month.
A second, larger support package would include the deployment of several hundred U.N. military, police and civilian personnel to the African Union mission along with substantial aviation and logistical assets.
The third phase is the deployment of the hybrid force. Annan said the U.N. intends "to work very expeditiously" with the African Union to name a joint special representation and a commander.
Abdalhaleem, the Sudanese ambassador, said that under the Darfur Peace Agreement the government and one rebel group signed in May, a 20,000-strong force from the government and former rebels will be created. That force plus 7,000 troops from the AU will provide "an overwhelming number" that can ensure security, he said.
Fighting in Darfur began in February 2003 when rebels from black African tribes took up arms, complaining of discrimination and oppression by Sudan's Arab-dominated government. The government is accused of unleashing Arab tribal militia known as the Janjaweed against civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson - a charge the government denies.


Updated : 2021-06-25 11:43 GMT+08:00