Sudan rejects US and British attempts to push UN troops into Darfur

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The issue of Darfur dominated the recent UN summit in New York as it did the other two sessions held on the sidelines by African and Arab leaders gathered there. Because the term of the 7,000-strong African Union force in Darfur was due to end on September 30, the main question was whether to send UN peacekeepers to replace it –” as the US and its allies demanded but the Sudanese president rejected –” or to extend the term of the AU mission and strengthen it. In the event, the African Union leaders were able to agree to extend the term of their force to the end of the year, while the special session of the UN security council meeting, convened on September 22, broke up without reaching a decision on sending a UN force.

Recently, the security council agreed to deploy a peacekeeping force in Darfur to put a stop to the violence, subject to the condition that Sudan must first agree before any such force is despatched. The condition was adopted because China pushed for it: China has veto power in the security council and values its oil imports from Sudan. Bashir was exploiting this condition when he firmly opposed the proposal before the security council. But he based his rejection of the proposal on the grounds that the US and the UN were trying to divide his country by the deployment of a foreign force there, and his supporters are, therefore, almost certain to see the result of his obduracy as a successful defiance of the US government and of the UN. But Bashir also argued that the deployment of a UN force would destroy Sudan’s sovereignty, and compared the expected results of such action to what is happening in Iraq as a consequence of Western and UN intervention: a line of argument that must also appeal to a wider circle of Muslims.

Bashir was opposed to exchanging the weak and ineffective African Union force for a western-controlled UN unit, but not to an AU force free from US and UN influence, as he told the African leaders in New York on the eve of their summit. "As far as we are concerned the UN force has become more the objective than the peace, and an objective for another agenda," he said. He added that the recent Security Council resolution, which called for the transformation, "reinforced our suspicion". Bashir also noted that the resolution talked about the establishment of an independent judiciary system, a police restructuring, enforcement of human rights and border-monitoring, "placing Sudan under mandate, a sort of trusteeship." He asserted that the planned force would be "a replica of the US forces in Iraq… a cancer in the state". According to him this was not necessary as "our institutions have not collapsed".

Bashir also warned that if the UN got its way, other parts of Sudan would fall under tis sway. He added that the AU could stay but insisted that any new forces should be African, under African command. "The AU cannot possibly control forces that are from outside Africa," he said. It came as no surprise that his defiance made Sudan’s relations with the West, particularly the US, even more tense. President George W. Bush called for UN action to force Sudan to accept the deployment of a UN force. "If the Sudanese government does not approve this peace-keeping force quickly, the UN must act," he said. "The credibility of the UN is at stake."

Bashir received no encouragement from the Arab leaders attending the UN summit in New York to stand up to those demanding the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur. On the contrary, some of those present, such as Egyptian president Husni Mubarak, were reported to put pressure on Bashir to ‘moderate’ his stance. Mubarak was, in particular, thought to have exerted pressure on him to avoid hostile public attacks on the US, and to seek accommodation with the US government. Some reporters covering the UN summit and the meetings of AU and Arab leaders in New York had no doubt that Mubarak was mediating between the two.

In one sense, Bashir’s ‘success’ in blocking any agreement among those attending the Security Council meeting to approve the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur was remarkable, as was his defiance of the US. His ‘success’ came in the wake of widespread attempts by the West, the UN and independent organisations to present the killings in Darfur as genocide and to secure the deployment of UN peacekeepers. In at least 50 countries well-publicised marches on the streets were organised. Even Hollywood actors, such as George Clooney, joined the international clamour to hold Khartoum responsible for the ‘genocide in Darfur’. Clooney warned the UN security council on September 14 that Darfur would become the scene of "the first genocide of the 21st century" if peacekeepers were not sent to Sudan by the end of the month.

Even Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, was not above joining the clamour, which was designed to compel Khartoum to give in to the US-led demands upon it. On September 19, for instance, he complained that the violence in Darfur was an affront to the world. "The continued spectacle of men, women and children driven from their homes by murder, rape and the burning of villages makes a mockery of our claim, as an international community, to shield people from the worst abuses," he told the 192-nation UN General Assembly.

In a separate development the US, working with Denmark, invited 25 foreign ministers to a crisis meeting on Darfur in New York on September 22 to secure their support for its draft resolution before the security council which called for the deployment of a UN force. But the failure of the US government, its allies and the pressure exerted by the so-called international community to force Bashir to agree to such deployment need not be interpreted as a remarkable success for Khartoum or defeat for Washington. As some Western media reports hinted, the US government is not really saddened about the fate of the people of Darfur, though it describes it as genocide. As one letter in a British daily asked, why has it taken the US three years to take dubious action on Darfur, but only three months to march into Iraq?

One thing there is no doubt about: that the US is keen to break up Sudan, if only to remove its oil-rich regions from Muslim control. It has already achieved some success in that direction by helping southern Sudan –” the site of Sudan’s oil-deposits –” to become autonomous, and is supporting the efforts of the regional leaders to turn it into a fully independent state. The members of the Arab League, of which Sudan is a member, are not giving Khartoum any support to resist this dismemberment. Nor are the members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, of which Sudan is also a member. This sad lack of support for each other is common in the Muslim world.

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