International pressure forced Sudan to accept a plan to deploy a combined UN and AU peacekeeping force of at least 20,000 troops in its troubled Darfur region, opposition parties said on Tuesday.Khartoum’s approval of the joint force came days after the United States strengthened sanctions against Sudan and after threats that a US and British draft resolution would be tabled to impose UN sanctions on the African nation.
It also preceded a UN Security Council visit to Sudan.
Sudan’s government says it did not bow to pressure, but arrived at a compromise through negotiations with the world body and the AU.
But Hassan Turabi, leader of the opposition Popular Congress Party, said it was clear the threats had worked. “Of course the government had said absolutely no. But now under pressure they surrendered,” Turabi told Reuters.
“They said OK, without conditions we surrender.” The spokeswoman of the other main opposition party in Khartoum, the Umma Party, said the move to accept the force of between 20,000-25,000 troops and police did not stem from the government’s desire to protect Darfuri civilians.
“They did not give in for the well-being of the Sudanese people. They gave in under pressure,” Mariam Mahdi said.
Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, Emyr Jones Parry, said the threat of sanctions was a useful tool.
“I would say that the suggestion of sanctions can themselves be just as effective as sanctions actually in place,” Parry told reporters during a visit to Khartoum.
Both opposition parties, the most active in Khartoum, welcomed the government’s change in position, but said only a real political solution would end the crisis which has driven 2.5 million people from their homes, sparking the world’s largest humanitarian operation.
International experts estimate 200,000 people have died in four years of violence, which Washington calls genocide.
Khartoum rejects the term and puts the death toll at 9,000. An AU mission was sent to the region but has proven ineffective. Khartoum strongly rejected Security Council Resolution 1706 authorising a UN force to take over, calling it an attempt to colonise Sudan.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir last year said he would resign and lead armed resistance to any UN troops in Darfur. But Foreign Minister Lam Akol said he was quoted out of context.
“He was talking about UN troops under UN command as under Resolution 1706,” he told Reuters.
The hybrid force has an African commander supported by UN command and control structures. Most forces will come from Africa but non-Africans would make up the shortfall.
The rebels have split into more than a dozen groups since a peace deal last year signed by only one of three rebel negotiating factions.
Many leaders have since lost control of their commanders on the ground, creating a chaotic and dangerous environment for aid workers and peacekeepers.
Turabi blamed Khartoum, saying it had pursued a deliberate policy of fragmenting the rebel groups to weaken them.
“Everybody wants to divide their enemies,” he said.
Mahdi said she was not optimistic about planned UN-AU mediated peace talks.
“The conflict in Darfur has gotten complicated in an unprecedented way,” she said.