April 12, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — International efforts to clinch Khartoum’s approval for UN peacekeepers in Darfur turned on Thursday into a scramble to contain rising tension between Chad and Sudan, following deadly border clashes.
Foreign envoys lined up to hold talks with Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, the latest being US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte who arrived in Khartoum late on Thursday at the start of a regional tour.
Libya’s number two diplomat, Abdel Salem Triki, shuttled between the two countries, holding talks first with Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno on Wednesday and then Beshir the following day.
Following his meeting in Sudan, he described the clashes as “regrettable” and urged the two countries to respect the February 2006 accord signed in Tripoli guaranteeing security on their borders.
“I hope the two countries will respect what was agreed concerning the presence of Libyan, Eritrean, Sudanese and Chadian observers at the border,” he told reporters.
Triki said that a number of the observers were already in place, but did not give a figure.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, for his part, echoed Triki’s call to respect the Tripoli agreement, expressing “Egypt’s worry over the negative developments” in relations between Chad and Sudan.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, on a visit to Sudan initially aimed at promoting former UN chief Kofi Annan’s peacekeeping plan for Darfur, was also enlisted by Beshir to support mediation efforts with Chad.
Chadian troops chased rebels across the border with Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region on Monday, sparking a battle with the Sudanese army. Khartoum said 17 of its troops were killed, while Chad reported about 30 killed on the two sides.
The clash was one of the most serious of its kind since the start of the Darfur conflict between rebels and Khartoum’s troops and allied Janjaweed militia more than four years ago.
It heightened fears that the fighting in western Sudan would eventually spill over into neighbouring countries.
The two neighbours have chronically exchanged accusations of support for each other’s armed opposition movements. Chad apologised for the incident but Sudan insisted it wanted further assurances.
Negroponte’s trip to Sudan was billed as a fresh push for the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur, an option that Beshir has consistently rejected despite the African Union’s (AU) inability to contain the violence there.
His tour of the region will last until April 19 and is scheduled to include stops in Chad, Libya and Mauritania.
Sudan has agreed to the first two phases of Annan’s plan involving mainly logistical and technical support for the embattled African force.
The final and more contentious phase of the plan is supposed to lead to the deployment of a joint — or “hybrid” — AU-UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, where at least 200,000 people have died in four years of fighting.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday sought to reassure Sudan that the helicopter gunships to be used for deterrence, not for offensive purposes.
“There seems to be some misunderstanding on the part of the Sudanese government on this equipment,” he said. “When you deploy troops you need to have mobility with some capacity for deterrence.”
“This is just standard equipment about which they (the Sudanese) should have no concern,” he added.
His comments came as Senegal warned it might pull its troops out of Darfur, where it recently lost five soldiers, unless the AU guaranteed peacekeepers’ security.
“If the AU is not adequately equipped to ensure the security of the contingents deployed on the ground, the government of Senegal may consider pulling out its troops,” the West African country’s cabinet said.