Monday, April 23, 2007

Sudan accepts U.N. attack copters, 3,000 troops in Darfur

Source: CNN, April 16, 2007.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Sudan on Monday accepted the deployment of U.N. attack helicopters and 3,000 peacekeepers in Darfur, the first time it has allowed a significant injection of U.N. forces to help African troops struggling to bring peace to the region.

Sudanese Foreign Minister spokesman Ali Sadiq said Khartoum has accepted the so-called "second package" that outlines the deployment -- including the attack helicopters. The Sudanese government, however, had resisted a U.N. force in the past and frequently reversed its position.

"The heavy support package has been fully accepted by the Sudanese government, there is no more discussion," Sadiq told The Associated Press.

He said it was now up to the United Nations to decide when to deploy some 3,000 troops and the gunships to reinforce the African Union mission.

The United States had held off on imposing sanctions against Sudan to allow time for the government to decide to accept the U.N. plan, under which a joint force of U.N. and African Union peacekeepers would be deployed in Darfur.

Sudan's U.N. ambassador informed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a letter that the government had approved the U.N. plan.

"It is the sincere hope of the Sudan that implementation of the heavy support package would proceed expeditiously," said Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem.

The current force of 7,000 AU peacekeepers has been unable to stop the fighting in a region the size of France or Texas. About 2.5 million people have been driven from their homes in Darfur and are living in poorly protected camps in the province and eastern Chad.

Until now, Sudan has said it will accept only a small number of U.N. security forces and equipment to support the AU mission. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said the deployment of U.N. troops would violate Sudan's sovereignty. Many believe he fears the U.N. force would arrest Sudanese officials suspected of war crimes in Darfur.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced in the four-year conflict in Darfur, which began when rebels from ethnic African tribes rose up against the central government. The government is accused of responding by unleashing the janjaweed militias of Arab nomads -- blamed for indiscriminate killing. The government denies the charges.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, in Sudan as part of an international push to pressure the government over Darfur, on Monday reiterated accusations that the government in Khartoum was actively supporting the janjaweed militia.

"The government of Sudan must disarm the janjaweed, the Arab militias that we all know could not exist without the Sudanese government's active support," Negroponte said.

He also said Sudan was hindering international efforts to help the refugees.

"The denial of visas, the harassment of aid workers and other measures have created the impression that the government of Sudan is engaged in a deliberate campaign of intimidation," he said.

The United Nations and Sudan agreed in November on a three-stage plan to strengthen the undermanned and under-equipped AU peacekeeping force in Darfur. It was to culminate in the deployment of a joint AU-U.N. force with 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers.

The first phase, a light support package including U.N. police advisers, civilian staff and additional resources and technical support, has already been sent to Darfur.

The U.N., AU and Sudan agreed on a second phase last Monday -- including more than 3,000 U.N. troops, police, and other personnel as well as substantial aviation and logistics equipment. But Sudan rejected a proposal to include six attack helicopters.

Sudan's approval of the helicopter component will now allow the heavy support package to be deployed.

Al-Bashir has backed off from the final stage, saying he would only allow a larger AU force, with technical and logistical support from the United Nations.

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