Sudan to Allow a Larger Force in Darfur

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was cautious about news that Sudan will allow a force of up to 25,000 in the Darfur region.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was cautious about news that Sudan will allow a force of up to 25,000 in the Darfur region. (By Kathy Willens -- Associated Press)
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

UNITED NATIONS, June 12 -- Sudan agreed on Tuesday to an expanded peacekeeping force in the Darfur region, according to a communique approved by negotiators from Sudan, the United Nations and the African Union.

The detailed accord, reached in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, allows for up to 25,000 A.U. and U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur, where a beleaguered mission of 7,000 A.U. peacekeepers has been working to help stem the slaughter of civilians.

But Khartoum's leadership has reneged on previous agreements to accept a broader U.N. role in Darfur, and this deal leaves a number of crucial issues unresolved, the most important whether the United Nations or the African Union will command the force. The uncertainty over that issue is undercutting U.N. efforts to recruit international troops for the Darfur mission.

Nevertheless, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon welcomed the accord, while the chief U.N. negotiator, Dimitri Titov, said the United Nations will step up preparations for a "lasting, daunting, dangerous operation" in Darfur, Agence France-Presse reported.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reacted more cautiously. He suggested that Sudan's agreement is conditioned on the demand that the new force be made up of African soldiers.

"If this is an unconditional acceptance, this would be a positive step that we would welcome, but, if it's conditional, as we hear, that there will be only African troops involved and no non-Africans, that's putting a condition on the acceptance and that would be unacceptable," Khalilzad said.

Sudan's ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, confirmed his government's approval of the 39-page plan, and he said that Sudan has not imposed fresh conditions. "The Americans will continue to cast doubt on everything, because they are spoilers," he said. "We have fulfilled all our commitments to the international community. The ball is absolutely now in the court of the U.N."

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has long opposed a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, characterizing it as part of a neocolonial plot to rule Sudan. In March, Bashir backtracked on an agreement for an eventual force of nearly 20,000 troops and about 6,000 police, saying that only Sudanese security forces have the authority to protect Sudanese civilians. He relented a month later, but then launched an air attack against rebel leaders preparing for peace talks with the government.

The violence in Darfur dates to February 2003, when two rebel groups launched attacks on Sudanese police installations. The government recruited and armed local Arab militia, known as the janjaweed, and provided military support as they rampaged villages in rebel territory, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of more than 2.5 million others.

The African Union sent peacekeepers to the region in 2004. After initial successes, the mission has been plagued by mounting casualties, including the deaths of 10 of its troops this year, and worsening morale as many of its soldiers have gone for months without pay, A.U. and U.N. officials said. In response, the African Union has dramatically scaled back patrols meant to protect vulnerable Darfurians in a region the size of France.

The United Nations and the African Union agreed in February to a compromise that would put a U.N. general in overall command of U.N. operations throughout Sudan but give command of the Darfur peacekeeping mission to an A.U. general. Their latest report indicated that they have yet to persuade countries considering funding or participating in the mission to accept those arrangements.

Several countries that initially expressed interest in participating in the mission, including Norway and Sweden, have backed out. Egypt has halted talks about supplying the United Nations with more than 30 armored personnel carriers, and Jordan has withdrawn an offer to supply six attack helicopters, senior U.N. officials said. China, Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria have expressed interest in sending some peacekeepers to Darfur.

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