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Sudan Rejects Calls for More Troops in Darfur

August 24, 2004|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

KHARTOUM, Sudan — The Sudanese government faced intense Western and African Union pressure to accept additional observers and soldiers in the Darfur region, as British Foreign Minister Jack Straw flew here Monday to urge Sudan to do more to disarm marauding militias.

In the Nigerian capital, Abuja, peace talks intended to end the Darfur conflict resumed, with the Sudanese government delegate rejecting calls for a force of 2,000 African Union soldiers to protect monitors investigating atrocities and attacks in the western region.

Sudan has refused to increase the force, which will cover an area the size of France that has 147 camps for refugees and displaced people. About half of the 300 soldiers from Nigeria and Rwanda have arrived.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has suggested sending an additional 2,000 troops to Darfur, and others have said the African Union should send a force of 4,000, including 1,000 monitors.

The U.N. Security Council has given Sudan until Monday to show that it is serious about disarming the Arab militias, known as janjaweed, which have been carrying out a campaign of terror across Darfur, killing and raping residents and burning villages. Humanitarian agencies, human rights groups and Western diplomats in Sudan have said the government armed and unleashed the militias to contain a rebellion early last year.

With little progress on the core issues of disarmament and security a week before the deadline, many are predicting that a report by U.N. special representative Jan Pronk on the situation in Darfur will be largely negative.

Pronk is due to deliver the progress account in coming days and report to the Security Council at the end of the month.

Pronk said Monday that killings continued in Darfur but not on a mass scale. Nor was there any evidence of government involvement, he said.

"There are mass violations of human rights, and we have to stop these mass violations. There is no mass killing, but there is some killing," he told the BBC. "But there is no reason to believe the government is behind the killing."

With the Security Council seen as unlikely to endorse sanctions -- even if Pronk's report is negative -- some see an increased African Union force as a way to manage the situation and contain janjaweed attacks.

Human rights groups say that only tough, unrelenting pressure can push the Sudanese government to act on security and related issues.

The British message, carried by Straw, appeared intended to impress on the government in Khartoum that the international community was still not satisfied with Sudan's response.

At a news conference late Monday in this Sudanese capital, Straw said he had questioned the Sudanese closely about their steps to improve security and humanitarian access in Darfur. But he declined to comment on whether Sudan had made enough progress on the key issue of security.

The foreign minister travels to Darfur today and will also meet with Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir.

Speaking to British journalists en route to Sudan, Straw said: "What we need to see is concrete signs of the government of Sudan being really serious about implementing its obligations, and that means safety and security for internally displaced people and relieving the humanitarian crisis."

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said at the news conference that the government had arrested at least 200 janjaweed militiamen.

"I want to assure that the government of Sudan is ready to work with the international community so that we can bring the situation in Darfur to normal as soon as possible," he said at the conference, which came after more than two hours of talks with Straw.

The militias' terror campaign began after two regional rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, rose up early last year, complaining of unfair distribution of resources by Khartoum.

Opening Monday's peace talks in Abuja, Obasanjo said, "We are gathered here to put our heads together, to rub minds together, because as far as we are concerned in Africa, part of one of our houses is on fire.

"We need to act quickly. Let us bear in mind the suffering of refugees and displaced persons, dislocations caused by attacks and counterattacks by militia groups."

The Sudanese government delegate, Majzoub Khalifa, said Sudan had no need for outside help in disarming militias.

"I don't think there is a need for this," Khalifa said in Abuja, before talks with negotiators from the two Darfur rebel groups. "Simultaneously, we will disarm the rebel movements, the janjaweed and other militia."

But a representative for the rebels, Abubakar Hamid Nour, coordinator of the Justice and Equality Movement, rejected Khalifa's comment.

"There is no way we can let our enemies disarm us," he said. "They are still killing us and bombing us."

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