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Rice, Others Press Sudan to Open Darfur to U.N. Force

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 23, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 22 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday renewed her call for Sudan to halt a military offensive in Darfur and yield to international pressure to allow more than 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers to protect civilians there.

Rice spoke at a gathering of representatives from 25 governments that she and her Danish counterpart, Per Stig Moller, convened to maintain international pressure on Sudan. Khartoum has defied repeated U.S. and U.N. appeals over the past nine months to allow U.N. peacekeepers into the Darfur region to help halt an outbreak of violence that has left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.

"It is now time for the Sudanese government to accept the will of the United Nations," Rice told participants at the meeting, which was held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. "Time is running out. The violence in Darfur is not subsiding. It is getting worse."

The remarks came as senior U.N. officials and diplomats expressed increasing skepticism about the prospects of obtaining Sudan's approval for a U.N. peacekeeping force. U.N. officials turned their attention to providing reinforcements to a small African peacekeeping force of 7,000 troops that has been unable to stop the killing. The African Union has authorized the force -- whose mandate had been set to expire this month -- to remain in Darfur at least through the end of the year.

The United Nations will send nearly 200 civilian, police and military advisers, primarily recruited from Africa, to help the African peacekeepers monitor atrocities in a region as large as France. It will also supply the force with logistics, communications and other equipment, including 36 Global Positioning System devices, 360 night-vision goggles and 37 armored vehicles.

"We continue to try very hard to convince the Sudanese government to accept an eventual transfer to a U.N. peacekeeping force," said Stephane Dujarric, the chief U.N. spokesman. "At the same time, our practical focus is on beefing up the capacity and strength of the African Union mission."

At Friday's meeting, Rice and Moller pressed governments to ramp up their support for the African Union mission and urged countries with influence on Sudan to press it to accept U.N. peacekeepers, a European diplomat said. The group is planning a ministerial-level meeting within a month to gauge progress, the diplomat said.

U.N. officials said privately that there is little hope that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir will invite the United Nations into Darfur without greater pressure from African and Arab leaders. "We don't have the muscle to make him move, and I doubt if the Americans do," said one senior U.N. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The message has to come from the Arab League and the African Union."

Jan Egeland, the United Nations' chief emergency relief official, said he is appealing to Asian, African and Muslim leaders to persuade Sudan to accept a U.N. force. "I'm telling non-Western powers to help us or else see that we collectively fail," Egeland said. "They have to fight for us."

Egeland said the African force, though vital, is not strong enough to protect civilians and ensure the safe distribution of relief.

Fighting in Darfur began in February 2003, when two rebel groups took up arms against the Islamic government, claiming mistreatment of the region's primarily black tribes. The Sudanese government, backed by Arab militia, launched a bloody counterinsurgency campaign that the Bush administration has called genocide.

As many as 450,000 people have died since 2003 from violence and disease in Darfur, and more than 2 million have been forced to flee their homes.

This week, U.N. officials warned that a new Sudanese military campaign is fueling the worst outbreak of violence since the conflict began. U.N. human rights monitors reported on Friday that Sudanese planes were indiscriminately bombing villages.

President Bush reiterated his call for Sudan to allow the United Nations into Darfur in a speech on Tuesday, and he appointed a special envoy to press for peace. But Sudan has dismissed Bush's pleas.

"You do need a go-ahead from the Sudan government. How can you do otherwise?" French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in an interview on Thursday.

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