KHARTOUM (AP) â€” Sudan would welcome the help of the United Nations in Darfur to implement a peace agreement between Khartoum and one of the rebel groups, despite the country’s initial resistance, a government spokesman said.
Bakri Mulah, secretaryÂ general for external affairs in the information ministry, was speaking a day after the agreement was reached in Abuja, Nigeria. His comments Saturday opened the door for the possibility that Sudan could accept UN peacekeepers to replace the thousands of African Union peacekeepers now in Darfur.
The Sudanese government had initially rejected calls for deploying a UN force.
“We heard the appeal of the UN secretary general…. Now there is no problem,” he said. “The Sudan government will be open for any assistance. It will not reject or oppose any effort either from the EUÂ or from the United States or from the United Nations in realising peace in Darfur on the grounds of this agreement,” he told the Associated Press in English.
But later Saturday, Egypt’s Middle East News Agency quoted Mulah as saying: “It is too early to talk about accepting or rejecting international forces. This has not been decided yet.” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We look forward to working with the Sudanese authorities on the eventual transition to a UN force and also in the short-term on the strengthening of the African Union force currently in Sudan.” He reiterated SecretaryÂ General Kofi Annan’s comment on Friday that after the Abuja agreement “we would, of course, expect to have access given to a UN planning team that will need to go to Darfur.” Two rebel groups have rejected the accord backed by the African Union, United States, Britain, European Union andÂ Â Arab League and skipped the signing ceremony in a hall at a Nigerian presidential villa Friday night.
Optimism was muted by that and a history of failure to live up to agreements struck over two years of negotiations in the Nigerian capital.
At the UN, American Ambassador John Bolton welcomed the agreement but said UN peacekeepers would become essential if the agreement were to hold.
“Recognising that this is a very positive development in Abuja, we now would like the government in Khartoum to follow through and give the necessary visas and other arrangements to allow the UN planners to go in,” Bolton said. That would lead to the strengthening of the African Union force during the transition, he said.
US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who helped spur negotiators to agree to stop the killing, said the embattled East African region was far from safe even if the peace agreement were to take hold.
US President George W. Bush intervened during the difficult negotiations, sending a letter to the leader of the largest rebel group, Minni Minnawi, with assurances that the United States would give strong support to implementation of the peace accord, help monitoring compliance, hold accountable those who do not cooperate and support a donors’ conference for Darfur, Zoellick said in a telephone interview from Abuja with reporters in Washington.
In Cairo, Egypt welcomed the agreement and said it was ready to participate in the peacekeeping force that would monitor its implementation, according to a statement released by the Egyptian presidency. The statement called on all sides to honour the accord. Arab League SecretaryÂ General Amr Musa also welcomed the agreement and urged the rebel groups that opted out to reverse their decisions.
Musa, in a statement faxed to the AP, expressed confidence that the agreement would end the violence and open the way for reconstruction and development.
Mulah said the agreement also would help in repairing relations between Sudan and Chad, strained over the flood of refugees from Darfur.
Beyond that, he told AP, he expected Minnawi, the head of the Sudan Liberation Movement, to play an important role in the peace process as a member Sudan’s national unity government.
Mulah said the agreement was not closed to other rebel groups who had refused to sign.
“The other parties still have a chance to do so, but if they refuse then they will be treated just like the Janjajweed [the anti-rebel militia the government was accused of backing] or any other outlaw factions.
“This is not a government stand, it is that of the international community, the AU, the UN and the US. They will not tolerate any violation of the agreement, ” he warned.
Separately, Sadiq Al Mahdi â€” the leader of Umma, Sudan’s largest opposition party â€” criticised the accord, saying he expected future disagreements.
“The people of Darfur deserve a power- and wealth-sharing formula that correspond with their population. This did not happen,” he told Al Arabiya satellite channel. But he added that having an international peacekeeping force could be a positive step.
“We hope that they would protect the peace and the security… of the people of Darfur. This sparks hope.”