KHARTOUM (Reuters) â€” Sharp differences emerged on Monday between Sudan and the international community over the purpose of an upcoming conference at which world powers are set to push for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
In a pre-conference declaration adopted on Monday, the European Union urged Sudan to allow a UN mission into Darfur to replace an African Union (AU) force that has been unable to stem the violence Washington called genocide. “A UN operation is the only viable and realistic option in Darfur in the long term,” the declaration said.
A senior EU official said the Brussels meeting on Tuesday, with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the United States, would also seek money for the under-funded AU mission until it is replaced by UN troops.
But Sudanese officials said that for them the sole aim of the meeting is to secure more money for the AU peacekeeping mission in its sprawling west, where tens of thousands of people have been killed in three years of fighting.
“The delegation which left today is going to discuss with the EU what support is needed for AU forces … [a UN force] is not the issue of the meeting,” Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Jamal Ibrahim told Reuters.
Omar Adam Rahama, a member of Sudan’s negotiation and implementation team for the Darfur peace deal reached in May with one rebel faction, was optimistic the country could get more AU funding without any concessions that would increase the likelihood of a future UN deployment.
But the senior EU official stressed that “all support to AMIS [the AU’s mission] is of course in the perspective of a transfer to the UN later.”
The under-equipped 7,000-strong AU force is struggling to keep the peace in Darfur, an area the size of France, and has complained of escalating attacks against its troops.
The AU had wanted to hand over to the United Nations at the end of September but its leaders decided earlier this month to extend its mission for three more months because of Sudan’s opposition to any UN deployment.
Sudan has likened a UN military presence to a Western invasion. Analysts say Khartoum fears UN soldiers would arrest any official or militia leader likely to be indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
Ibrahim said Sudan’s stance on UN troops had not changed since Sudan’s President Omar Bashir again ruled out UN troops at an AU summit earlier in July. UN forces cannot be deployed without his consent and diplomats say little leverage is available to persuade him.
Violence erupted in Darfur in 2003 when non-Arab rebels took up arms against the Arab dominated Khartoum government, accusing it of neglect and monopolising power.
Khartoum responded by arming a mostly Arab militia locally known as the Janjaweed, who stand accused of a campaign of rape, murder and looting. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting and 2.5 million forced into squalid camps. Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol will attend Tuesday’s conference, but Sudan asked that rebel leaders, who have repeatedly demanded UN peacekeepers, not be invited.
A May peace deal signed by the government and one of three negotiating rebel factions has been widely ignored