China Urges Sudan to Accept U.N. Troops

By MOHAMED OSMAN
The Associated Press
Monday, April 9, 2007; 8:25 PM

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- China urged Sudan on Monday to accept the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur, increasing the pressure on a key economic partner that Beijing has been criticized for protecting.

China's assistant foreign minister, Zhai Jun, warned that putting too much pressure on Sudan could be counterproductive. But he said Sudan should accept the peacekeeping plan proposed last year by then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"Our position toward Darfur is clear. We have exercised all possible efforts, political, economic and others and advised our Sudanese brothers to accept Annan's plan," Zhai said after meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

China buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports, sells it weapons and military aircraft, and has come under criticism for not using its influence to do more to stop the crisis in the Darfur region.

China has been gradually increasing the pressure on Sudan to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force. Chinese President Hu Jintao told the Sudanese government in February that it must give the U.N. a bigger role in trying to resolve the conflict in Darfur, but did not explicitly call on al-Bashir to accept the U.N. plan.

Sudan and the United Nations agreed in November on the incremental deployment of a joint African Union-U.N. force of 20,000 peacekeepers in Darfur. But al-Bashir has since backed off, saying he will only accept a larger AU force with technical and logistical U.N. support.

The United Nations says the 7,000-member AU force now on the ground is overwhelmed in Darfur, a region the size of France.

At least 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes since the conflict there erupted four years ago between ethnic African rebels and the Arab-dominated central government.

Last month, the U.S. government said it was preparing to impose new economic sanctions on Sudanese companies and block international sanctions. Britain has called on the U.N. to consider imposing a no-fly zone over Darfur. The measure apparently would be directed at stopping the Sudanese government's aerial bombardment of rebel positions, attacks the United Nations says have killed civilians.

A major French presidential candidate, Francois Bayrou, even suggested boycotting the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics in hopes of pressuring China to stop protecting Sudan from sanctions.

But U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said last week that talk of sanctions should wait until he has had more time to pressure Sudan diplomatically.

Zhai, whose country has veto-power in the U.N. Security Council, said he was optimistic Sudan's concerns over the plan could be resolved if all sides show sincere intentions. He called the U.N. plan "practical and reasonable."

"There is flexibility and there is readiness to demonstrate this flexibility in the talks to come, but this flexibility should be demonstrated in mutual consultations on an equal basis," Zhai said.

Separately, the Sudanese military said that neighboring Chad had attacked a Sudanese border town in West Darfur, killing 17 Sudanese soldiers.

Sudanese army spokesman Osman Mohamed al-Aghbash said the soldiers were killed and 40 others were wounded pushing the Chadian army company back across the border near the small town of For Baranga.

His statement said the raid "caused big losses among civilians" that were still being calculated.

The Chadian government could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sudan and Chad often trade accusations of harboring each other's rebels, and important components of a rebellion in Chad are suspected of being hosted by the Sudanese government near For Baranga. Chad has invoked a "right of pursuit" in the past to cross into Sudan to chase rebels that had allegedly attacked its military.


© 2007 The Associated Press