News and Information

Government Snubs Offer of More African Troops for Darfur
August 23, 2004

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

August 23, 2004
Posted to the web August 23, 2004


Africa's latest effort to resolve an 18-month-old conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region hit an immediate bump on Monday when the Sudanese government rejected a proposal for African Union (AU) troops to disarm rebel groups while Khartoum dealt with the pro-government Janjawid militia.

Nigerian President and current chairman of the African Union, Olusegun Obasanjo, had floated the idea ahead of the latest round of AU-sponsored peace talks which opened in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Monday.

The Abuja talks follow on from earlier attempts to bring the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels to the negotiating table in N'djamena, the capital of Chad, in April, and Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the AU, in July.

Diplomats have billed the Abuja round as the last chance to find an African solution to the Darfur crisis before a UN deadline runs out in a week's time.

Obasanjo put the case for an AU force disarming the Darfur rebels in an eve-of-talks television interview on Sunday night

"The (Sudanese) government's argument is 'If we disarm them before the rebels what will happen?' But who is to disarm the rebels? those who armed the Janjawid? This is where I believe that the effort of the AU will be necessary," the Nigerian president said.

He went out of his way to stress that any AU force in Darfur would complement and not replace Sudan's own police and army.

"Any AU troops in Sudan are there to complement the Sudanese security. And let me say this: the AU force is not a peacekeeping force in the true sense of the word. It cannot replace the Sudanese security," Obasanjo said.

However, Sudan's Agriculture Minister, who is leading Khartoum's delegation to the Abuja talks, dismissed the suggestion.

"I don't think there is a need for this," Mazjoub al-Khalifa told reporters before talks kicked off. "Simultaneously we will disarm the rebel movements, the Janjawid and other militia."

Darfur's two rebel groups -- the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) -- have been fighting Khartoum since February 2003 for a better economic and political deal for the arid western region. They say the Sudanese government has been arming the Arab Janjawid militia, mounted on camels and horses, to loot and burn their villages.

The rebels' distrust of Khartoum seemed as strong as ever in Abuja. JEM leader Abubakar Hamid Nour said categorically that his fighters would not hand over their weapons to Sudanese government soldiers or policemen.

"There is no way our enemies can disarm us," he told reporters on his way into the opening session of the talks. "They are still killing us and bombing us."

Clock ticking

The clock is ticking for Sudan to prove to the UN Security Council that it is taking concrete steps to disarm the Janjawid and restore security in Darfur. The Council passed a resolution on 30 July giving Khartoum 30 days to comply or face unspecified measures against it.

The International Crisis Group (ICG), an influential Brussels-based thinktank, on Monday said that when the deadline expired, the UN should demand that the Sudanese government accept an enlarged AU peacekeeping mission with a wider remit than protecting ceasefire monitors.

"(It should) authorise the AU to form, lead and deploy to Darfur a mission consisting of at least 3,000 troops -- and preferably many more -- with a mandate to provide civilian protection and use force as necessary," the ICG said in a statement.

The AU has had a team of monitors on the ground in Darfur since an April ceasefire, which the rebels and the government accuse each other of breaking almost daily.

So far Rwanda has sent 155 military personnel to protect the ceasefire monitors and Nigeria is standing by to deploy another 120 soldiers this week to join this small AU force, which has no mandate to protect Sudanese civilians caught up in the conflict. Nigeria has said it could send up to 1,500 troops if required but is awaiting a sign from Khartoum.

Obasanjo's office had said before Monday's talks that disarmament was the major concern. At the official opening session, the Nigerian president told delegates in Abuja to remember the victims and embark on a "genuine search for a solution."

"Let us bear in mind the suffering of the masses. Of women, children, grandparents as well as refugees and displaced persons," Obasanjo said.

The UN has said that the violence in Darfur has created "the world's worst humanitarian crisis".

At the weekend, the Sudanese government undertook to ensure the safe return home of more than one million people displaced by the conflict with Sudan's borders, pledging to abide by a policy of voluntary return. Some 200,000 Darfuris have also fled to neighbouring Chad.

International pressure is being kept up on Khartoum, with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw flying to Sudan on Monday for a two-day visit.

"I am keen to see for myself the situation on the ground in Darfur, and to make clear to the Sudanese Government and people the extent of British, and broader international, concern," Straw said in a statement before departing.

"During and after my visit I shall be liasing closely with President Obasanjo who is holding preliminary peace talks in Abuja starting Monday," he added,

Assane Ba, a spokesman for the African Union, said all sides had presented their sides of the story during Monday's closed-door session and a six-man mediation committee, including representatives from Nigeria. Libya, Chad, the AU, the UN and the Arab League, was now working on a more detailed agenda.

"It is a political dialogue and you cannot broker something in one day," he told IRIN by telephone, declining to say how long the discussions in Abuja would last.


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