UN Peacekeepers Get Green Light Sudan Agrees to Darfur Deployment
After months of stalling the Sudanese government has finally agreed to allow 3,000 UN peacekeepers to deploy in Darfur. But it will take six months to assemble the force and Khartoum is reluctant to agree to a larger hybrid force of UN and African Union troops.
A rebel from southern Sudan. The conflict between the rebels and the pro-government militia has led to the deaths of over 200,000 and displaced 2.5 million. Now the Sudanese government is allowing UN peacekeepers in to support the African Union force already deployed.
The announcement was made as the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon began two days of meetings on the Darfur crisis with the head of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konare, and the two envoys dealing with the conflict -- the UN's Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim of the AU. The four men are to meet again on Tuesday to discuss the future course of action. Ban called Monday's development a "very positive sign," while Konare said he was "delighted."
Sudan's ambassador to the UN Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem said on Monday that the government in Khartoum hopes "that implementation of the heavy support package would proceed expeditiously."
The UN's envisaged plan for Darfur has three stages: the first stage, which has been mostly implemented, involves sending UN police advisers, civilian staff and equipment to the region. The second phase, which Sudan agreed to on Monday, is the heavy support package including six attack helicopters. Khartoum had been opposing stage two, and continues to stand in the way of a stage three which envisions a hybrid UN-AU force of some 20,000 troops and police.
Despite Sudan's acquiescence, it still may take months before the UN troops can be deployed. Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN peacekeeping boss, told reporters he would meet with potential troop contributors on Thursday -- because the UN has no standing army of its own, it must recruit soldiers for each new operation. Guehenno emphasized that Monday's agreement is a prelude to a larger force: "This is not the robust force that Darfur needs," he said. "Its a support package to lay the groundwork for a future robust force. It's a transition to a hybrid mission."
Since it began in 2003 the conflict in Darfur between southern rebel groups and pro-government Arab militia has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people and the displacement of over 2.5 million. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had repeatedly rejected the deployment of a UN force in the country to resolve the crisis. But he has come under increasing pressure from the United States, the European Union, some African and Arab countries, China too, despite being an important ally which buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and sells Khartoum weapons and military aircraft, has tightened the thumb-screws on Khartoum.
Sudan's acceptance of the interim force is now likely to head off plans by the United States and Britain to push for sanctions against the country. The US voiced some skepticism about Monday's announcement, noting that Sudan had reneged on previous agreements. "We've been down this path before," said acting US Ambassador Alejandro Wolff. "The test is going to be implementation."
In Khartoum, visiting US deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, said "We must move quickly to a larger hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force." He also called on the government in Khartoum to stop actively supporting the Janjaweed militia, who have been accused of some of the worst atrocities against civilians in Darfur.