Sunday, April 15, 2007

China leans on Sudan to accept peacekeeping plan

Source: CNN.
April 11, 2007.

BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- China urged Sudan in unusually strong terms on Wednesday to show more flexibility on a peace plan for its devastated Darfur region, but said the international community would get nowhere by dictating terms to Khartoum.

China, which buys much of Sudan's oil and wields veto power on the U.N. Security Council, has been criticized in the West for not using its leverage to force Khartoum to act to curb violence in Darfur, where ethnic tensions erupted into a revolt in 2003.

"We suggest the Sudan side show flexibility and accept this plan," Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun told a news conference on his return from a three-day trip to the African country.

Sudan has rejected U.N.-A.U. force

He was referring to a peace plan put forward by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to deploy a hybrid African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force. Sudan has had reservations about the deal.

Zhai met Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir as well as Foreign Ministry officials and visited refugee camps in Darfur -- a rare step for a Chinese official. He said on Wednesday Beijing was using its influence in its own way and rejected suggestions that it would get further by using threats.

"The international community should pay attention to the way of having consultations with the Sudan government in order to achieve better results. This is my opinion," Zhai said.

"On the Annan plan, China has played an essential role. Just because of the Chinese government, Sudan is adopting a flexible attitude," he said. "China can't do everything, but we respect each other and consult as equals."

But while insisting its role in Sudan is constructive, China has offered Khartoum increased military cooperation. Last week it played host to its Joint Chief of Staff in Beijing.

Chinese weapons are also used by all sides in the Darfur conflict despite an arms embargo on the region.

Calls Janjaweed 'only a group of bandits'

Zhai played down the strength of the government-allied Janjaweed, calling their militias "only a group of bandits". And he said China would not support sanctions against Sudan.

"We should help Sudan resolve this issue instead of creating further problems or complicating the issue. Therefore, we are not in favor of sanctions," he said, adding that it was too early to say if China would veto such a resolution.

Zhai's trip was the latest sign of China's intensifying engagement with Sudan and follows a trip by President Hu Jintao in February.

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo also discussed promoting diplomatic efforts to resolve the Darfur issue with his U.S. counterpart John Negroponte by telephone earlier this week.

The four-year war in Darfur has killed an estimated 200,000 people and driven more than 2 million from their homes.

But the Khartoum government has been resisting the deployment of international troops to back ill-equipped African forces.

"Sudan has accepted in principle the three-phased Annan plan. However, on some of the details, it has reservations," Zhai said. "Sudan is most concerned about its sovereignty and territorial integrity."

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