Sudan crushes hopes for Darfur crisis solution

Sudan’s president has rejected a proposal to send thousands of UN peacekeepers to Darfur to boost 7,000 African peacekeepers there, crushing hopes for a quick solution to a crisis that is spreading across central Africa.

“We want an African force,” Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir told reporters after closed-door African Union talks in Abuja at which African leaders were advocating a proposal for an expanded peacekeeping mission that would include blue-helmeted UN soldiers.

“We can take technical advisory and financial support from the UN, but no UN force,” al-Bashir said.

Sudan, the United Nations and the AU agreed in principle earlier this month to create a hybrid mission, but confusion has remained, with some Sudanese officials saying they want UN support, but only in the form of finance and logistics, rather than UN troops on the ground.

With bloodshed in Darfur continuing, Sudan has been under increased pressure to find a way to end the crisis.

Al-Bashir met behind closed doors with African leaders at talks organised by the African Union Peace and Security Council, chaired by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

AU Darfur mediator Sam Ibok said earlier that African leaders would discuss the proposal for a “hybrid” AU-UN force of between 17,000 and 20,000 soldiers.

Sudan had portrayed a UN force as a throwback to the colonial era. A combined operation would be a compromise, but there are still questions as to how the AU and UN would share roles and responsibilities.

The AU’s peacekeeping mandate in Darfur expires on December 31, Ibok said.

Al-Bashir had repeatedly rejected a UN Security Council resolution from August under which 20,000 UN peacekeepers would replace an overstretched, 7,000-strong African Union force, but he recently indicated a willingness to consider ways the UN could help the African force.

Sudan’s foreign affairs minister, Lam Akol, had told news agency SUNA that the government hoped the summit would give a clear mandate for African Union troops to serve another tour and define the role of the UN in supporting the African Union.

Three years of fighting between government and rebel forces in Darfur have caused the deaths of more than 200,000 people and forced some 2.5 million from their homes.

The volatility has contributed to instability in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic, two countries facing their own rebellions.

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