Monday, September 18, 2006

Peace keepers keep up pressure on Darfur

Sudan set to agree AU mandate extension: report
By Cynthia Johnston2 hours, 55 minutes ago

Sudan is expected to agree to an extended African Union peacekeeping mandate in Darfur when African foreign ministers meet in New York on Monday, a presidential adviser said.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is under pressure to accept U.N. peacekeepers in war-torn Darfur when the AU mandate in western Sudan expires on September 30.
Britain's Guardian newspaper quoted presidential adviser Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani as saying Sudan may allow AU troops to remain in Darfur past the deadline with more help from the West.
"It is likely we will arrive at an extension of the African Union mandate when the ministers meet in New York. There seems to be a common interest. It will give time for all sides to find a way out of this," Atabani said.
Atabani said Sudan wanted to explore what it called "African Union Plus," whereby AU peacekeepers remain in Darfur but get help in the form of helicopters and surveillance technology from Western states.
The 7,000 under-funded and badly equipped AU troops have failed to stop the violence that has killed an estimated 200,000 people and created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.
The United Nations wants to take control of the mission with 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers who would more aggressively enforce the oft-violated ceasefire in the region.
But Bashir, as recently as Saturday, said under no circumstances would he allow the U.N. troops into Darfur.
Bashir has likened a U.N. presence to an invasion force bent on regime change in Khartoum. Analysts say the government might also be concerned U.N. troops could arrest suspects eventually named in war crimes warrants issued by the International Criminal Court.
Sudanese state media said Bashir arrived in New York on Monday and would address the AU meeting over Darfur.
SUNA, quoting Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations Abdel-Mahmoud Abdel-Halim, said Bashir would also address the U.N. General Assembly but did not say when.
Years of fighting in Darfur have forced more than 2 million people from their homes and into overcrowded refugee camps with little prospect of returning to the life they once knew.
Darfur villages and fields have been decimated since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in February 2003 to protest what they called marginalization and neglect by leaders in Khartoum.
Sudan's finance minister said in Singapore on Monday that money earmarked by the United Nations for peacekeepers would be better spent on development in Darfur.
"People have focused on bringing the peacekeepers to Darfur, when we think what Darfur needs is not peacekeepers. ... What Darfur needs most is resources for water, resources for schools, for hospitals," Sudanese Finance Minister Lual Deng said.
"These resources, if they could be used in order to develop Darfur, it would be much better," he told a news conference at the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings.
Deng said the government was jointly assessing Darfur's needs with the World Bank, the United Nations and the African Development Bank.
On Sunday, peace activists around the world staged a day of action to highlight the conflict in Darfur, which Washington has labeled as a "genocide." The Sudanese government denies that.
A peace deal signed in May between one rebel faction and the government offered a glimmer of hope that the fighting might end but since then violence in Darfur has actually increased.
Aid workers say they have less access than at any time since the conflict began.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned last week of "yet more death and suffering, perhaps on a catastrophic scale" if the government in Khartoum does not allow international peacekeepers into the region.
(additional reporting by David Clarke in London and Jan Dahinten in Singapore)

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