Sudan Praises U.N. Peacekeeping Force

By MOHAMED OSMAN and ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 1, 2007; 2:20 PM

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Sudan on Wednesday endorsed a U.N. resolution to send 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, raising hopes for a force that could for the first time provide real protection to civilians in one of the world's most embattled regions.

If fully deployed, the troops would be the United Nation's largest peacekeeping operation and, under the U.N. resolution passed Tuesday, would be under orders to prevent attacks against civilians.

Attack helicopters expected to be sent in would give the troops a major edge in moving quickly across the large territory in central Africa _ about the size of France _ to stop attacks by Arab janjaweed militias on villages.

Four years of warfare in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and driven some 2.5 million others from their homes. The conflict began when ethnic African rebels launched an insurgency, complaining of discrimination by the Arab government in Khartoum. The government is accused of responding by unleashing the janjaweed, a militia blamed for widespread killings, rapes and other atrocities against ethnic African civilians. Khartoum denies the claims.

An African Union force of 7,000 troops on the ground has been too small and too poorly equipped to stop the bloodshed.

President Omar al-Bashir had resisted for months a push to send U.N. peacekeepers. But Sudan agreed in June to a compromise deal for the African Union to deploy jointly with the U.N. in a "hybrid force" to end the violence.

Acceptance of the new mission marked a major turnaround for Khartoum. Al-Bashir said last year he viewed U.N. blue helmets as a neocolonial force and would personally lead the resistance against them if they deployed.

"The Sudanese government is committed to implementing its part of the resolution," Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol told reporters Wednesday.

"This resolution is a result of long and tedious consultations involving lots of people and the Sudanese government," Akol said. "This is the first time a country involved in the resolution takes part in the consultations."

But Sudan has a long history of obstructing any international presence in Darfur, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Wednesday the United States would watch out for any Sudanese backtracking.

"We are expecting the Sudanese government to live up to the commitments it is making," she said, speaking during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

To avoid a veto from China, Khartoum's top diplomatic ally, the Security Council repeatedly watered down its new resolution, dropping a crucial provision for additional sanctions against Khartoum if it obstructs U.N. peace efforts. It also removed a provision allowing the force to actively disarm militias and rebels.

"This force is only going to have a significant impact on security (for Darfurians) if two things happen: a sufficient deployment of troops with requisite material, and a real political agreement for peace in Darfur," said Colin Thomas-Jensen, a Sudan expert at the Enough Project, a U.S.-based research and advocacy group.

The force will include up to 19,555 military personnel, including 360 military observers and liaison officers, a civilian component including up to 3,772 international police, and 19 special police units with up to 2,660 officers. The U.N. said the force, called UNAMID, will have "a predominantly African character," as Sudan demanded. African troops already in Darfur will stay there.

France, Denmark and Indonesia offered Wednesday to contribute to the force. Nigeria, which has about 2,000 troops already in Darfur, said it is ready to send an additional battalion _ about 700 solders.

Western activists warned that Khartoum could eviscerate the new Darfur mission by, for instance, not granting entry visas to blue helmets, holding up key military gear at customs or impeding contractors sent in to build peacekeeping bases.

"That kind of obstruction is likely how Sudan is going to try to slow down and eventually kill the deployment of this force, which I'm fully confident it's going to try to do," said Larry Rossin, head of the Save Darfur Coalition. "It will do it like that rather than by frontally rejecting the resolution."

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Alfred de Montesquiou reported from Cairo, Egypt. AP correspondent Angela Doland contributed to this report from Paris.


© 2007 The Associated Press