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Sudan rejects Arab and Muslim peacekeepers for Darfur

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Oct 8, 2006 (CAIRO) — Sudan’s president has turned down a proposal from Arab and Muslim countries to send Arab peacekeepers to bolster the African Union peacekeepers now in war-torn Darfur, Arab diplomats said Sunday.

Amr Musa

But Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir also promised to look into ways to let the world community play a role in dealing with the violence and suffering in Darfur — in a possible sign that a new push of Arab lobbying may be having some effect, the diplomats said.

The Arab League Secretary-General, Amr Musa, who visited Khartoum last week, carried the proposal to al-Bashir in a fresh bid to break the stalemate over Sudan’s rejection of a U.N. Security Council proposal to send U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur.

The United States has been heavily lobbying the Arab world in recent days and weeks to press Sudan to allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur to stop the violence and provide humanitarian relief.

Arab diplomats who accompanied Musa said he suggested to al-Bashir that Sudan accept thousands of troops from Arab and Muslim countries, to join the current force of African Union troops and then have that mission later shift to U.N. peacekeepers.

Samir Hosny, who heads the African section of the Cairo-based League, said al-Bashir was still vehemently opposed to sending U.N. peacekeepers, but promised to look into Musa’s proposals.

"He (al-Bashir) said he will make an initiative soon. This is what he promised," Hosny said.

Musa’s top aide, Hesham Youssef, said al-Bashir promised to make his decision "within days."

"We except that the ideas will be closer to what is being circulating," Youssef told The Associated Press. "The situation is deteriorating and needs intervention."

Sudan has rejected any idea of allowing U.N peacekeepers into Darfur, and has accused "crusaders" from the West of trying to take over the country. Al-Bashir has repeatedly said the force would be neocolonialists and violators of Sudanese sovereignty. His government has orchestrated mass demonstrations in Khartoum against the idea.

Washington, in return, has recently increased its pressure on al-Bashir to cooperate.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came out of a meeting with eight Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Tuesday and pleaded for the world to persuade Sudan to accept U.N. peacekeepers.

"We need to work urgently to have the government of Khartoum accept what is now a U.N. Security Council resolution," Rice said. She referred to the resolution passed in August that would give the world body authority over the African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, enhancing their power to tackle lawlessness and shortages of food and water.

Rice’s appeal immediately bore fruit with Arab states — which had earlier expressed reservations about pressuring Sudan — immediately making a more-public push on their neighbor.

On Saturday, for example, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahemd Aboul Gheit signaled to Sudan that it was time to show flexibility.

"Egypt endeavors to avoid any confrontation between Sudan and the international community which might expose it to more dangers," he told Egyptian state television. "The international community has concerns that thousands more of the Sudanese people in Darfur will fall victims."

African-Arab nations such as Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania already have small contingents operating in Darfur with the African Union peacekeepers. But the two League diplomats said that if Sudan agreed to let Arab and Islamic troops in, other countries would join.

"Once we have a clear picture there will be a lot of countries willing to join, I am sure," said Youssef.

The international community believes only a strong U.N. peacekeeping force can end the violence in the western Darfur region, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million chased from their homes in thee years of fighting between rebels and the army.

Youssef said the world community and the United States should also be flexible.

"The Americans should realize that there should a compromise," he said.

(AP/ST)

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