Sudan will allow African troops to protect observers in the country's troubled western region of Darfur, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said Saturday, but he stressed that any peacekeeping role would be limited to Sudanese forces.
"We have to make a distinction between three categories. The presence of observers, the presence of protection forces for those observers and the presence of peacekeeping forces," Ismail said in Khartoum, the capital, when asked whether Sudan would accept African peacekeepers. "We don't have a problem with either the first or the second categories. As far as the third category is concerned . . . this is the responsibility of the Sudanese forces."
Ismail said that Darfur was a regional problem and that Sudan was discussing it with organizations such as the African Union and the Arab League, due to hold an emergency meeting Sunday.
As many as 50,000 African villagers have been killed and 1.5 million displaced in Darfur by an Arab militia, called the Janjaweed, that has terrorized the region. U.N. and U.S. officials have called the situation the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Under the terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution, Sudan has about three weeks remaining to demonstrate that it is serious about disarming the Janjaweed, or face possible sanctions.
The African Union is proposing sending as many as 2,000 troops to protect its cease-fire monitors in Darfur and to serve as peacekeepers, but has yet to send an official request to the Sudanese government.
Ismail said he had signed a Sudanese-U.N. pact pledging safe areas for the villagers uprooted by the fighting, which U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sent to Security Council members on Friday. The pact also pledges to work to disarm the militia and stop actions by Sudanese government troops in civilian areas.
The pact was expected to be signed Monday, but Ismail said that "it was signed in the early hours of Friday morning in my office."
Human rights and aid groups accuse the Arab-led government of arming and supporting the Janjaweed, initially to suppress a rebellion by two African groups that took up arms last year to protest discrimination against the region's African tribes.
The government denies the charge and says the Janjaweed are outlaws.
A U.N. investigator said Friday that the Sudanese government was largely to blame for the Darfur humanitarian crisis and responsible for large numbers of killings in the region.
Ismail said the Sudanese advisory council for human rights would reply to the investigator's report in due course.
Also Saturday, the governor of one state in the region, Northern Darfur, said 210 African rebels had surrendered. But a spokesman for a rebel group, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, said the statement was "totally wrong."
Abu Garda said the government and the Janjaweed had attacked civilians and rebel troops four days ago in violation of a cease-fire agreement signed by both sides in early April.