Protest against UN peacekeepers in Darfur

Tens of thousands of Sudanese people marched through Khartoum protesting against plans to deploy UN peacekeepers in conflict-torn Darfur.

Tens of thousands of Sudanese people marched through Khartoum protesting against plans to deploy UN peacekeepers in conflict-torn Darfur.

They demanded the expulsion of the top UN and US diplomats in the country.

The Sudanese government also increased its opposition to the deployment, with a senior official warning yesterday that violence will only increase if UN troops move in to replace African Union peacekeepers.

Mohamed Elsamani, Sudan’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said in Nairobi: “If the UN arrives, the troubles will spread in the region.”

Officials from the European Union, the US and the African Union, along with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, held talks in Brussels aimed at spurring the faltering Darfur peace negotiations.

US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said both the EU and Washington wanted to have a bigger peacekeeping force in place in Darfur, but it had to coincide with achieving a lasting peace deal between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government.

“We hope that the Sudanese government will not resist,” Mr Zoellick said. “We hope that the Sudanese government will recognise how this is in its interest to end the violence.”

A beleaguered 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force operates in Darfur, where three years of violence has left some 180,000 dead, mostly from disease and hunger, and displaced another two million from their homes.

The African Union force has faced severe funding and logistical problems, and its mandate expires at the end of the month. The Security Council has recommended that the United Nations starts planning to take over peacekeeping.

In Khartoum, some 30,000 people marched from Martyrs Square to the offices of the United Nations, threatening to fight any UN force deployed in Darfur. They demanded the removal of the top UN envoy in Sudan, Jan Pronk, and the US charge d’affaires.

“Death to invaders” and “Our country will be their graveyard”, many in the crowds chanted, some waving automatic weapons in the air.

Some carried banners reading “Death to America” and “Resistance and jihad”.

A heavy police and security presence closed down roads leading to Western embassies in the city.

The march was organised by the Popular Organisation for the Defence of the Homeland and the Faith, a pro-government umbrella group of religious, civil and women’s movements and political parties, including the ruling party.

Fatahi Khalil, the secretary-general of the organisation, told the cheering crowds: “We know the Americans and the British are too scared to send troops to Sudan after what has happened to them in Afghanistan and in Iraq, but even if they send pure Muslim or Arab troops we will consider them invaders and will fight them.”

The conflict in Darfur, a large region of western Sudan, began when two rebel groups rose up against rule by the Khartoum government, claiming discrimination against Darfur’s ethnic African population.

Government troops launched a crackdown, and Arab militias known as the Janjaweed began a campaign of violence, burning ethnic African villages and driving out, killing and raping the residents.

The Sudanese government is widely alleged to have unleashed the Janjaweed, though it denies the accusation.

Numerous rounds of peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, have been stalled by internal divisions in the rebel movements.

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