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U.N. Envoy Urges More African Peacekeepers in Sudan
New York Times
September 27, 2004


GENEINA, Sudan, Sept. 26 - The United Nations' top envoy for Sudan called Saturday for a large and swift deployment of African Union peacekeepers with a mandate to protect civilians and monitor Sudanese security forces on the ground in Darfur.

The government in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, accused an opposition party linked to the Darfur rebellion with a coup attempt that failed Friday.

"We need many thousands of African union troops with a broad mandate, quick deployment, big numbers," Jan Pronk, the United Nations secretary general's special representative for Sudan, said Saturday evening in a telephone interview from Khartoum. "Broad, quick, big. That's very important."

Mr. Pronk, of the Netherlands, is to brief the United Nations Security Council later this week, as it considers what action to take against Khartoum, including possible sanctions against oil exports.

Sudan has vigorously criticized the Security Council's sanctions threat but has pledged to cooperate with the United Nations inquiries.

The state-run news agency, meanwhile, accused the country's chief opposition party of plotting the assassinations of senior government officials in coup attempt on Friday.

It was the third time this year that Khartoum charged its opponents in the Popular Congress Party with plotting an overthrow. Many of its leaders, including its chief, Hassan al-Turabi, an outspoken Islamist and a former ally of President Omar el-Bashir, have been arrested in recent months.

Speaking to reporters here in the capital of West Darfur State on Sunday, the Khartoum-appointed governor, Suleiman Abdalla Adam, blamed the rebels for the coup attempt, characterizing one of the two Darfur guerrilla groups, the Justice and Equality Movement, as the political opposition's military wing. "They are seeking foreign intervention,'' he said. "That's why they are escalating the situation."

The Sudanese government has insisted that it alone is responsible for the protecting its own territory and has so far declined the offer of African Union peacekeepers, except for about 300 who have come to provide security to unarmed African Union cease-fire monitors stationed in Darfur.

But Mr. Pronk, in the interview on Saturday, said Sudanese government officials had told him they were willing to accept a larger but unspecified number of African Union troops with greater responsibilities, also unspecified.

"I need a positive reaction to my proposal," he said, adding that 5,000 would be the minimum number required for patrolling Darfur, an area as large as France. "Of course it is slow, but pressure works."

The peacekeepers, he said, should be given a mandate that includes protecting villages, staying in displaced people's camps at night, monitoring Sudanese police forces around the camps and supervising the disarmament of pro-government Arab militias.

War broke out in western Sudan in early 2003, when a rebel insurrection, frustrated by what it called Khartoum's marginalization of Darfur, demanded economic and political reforms.

The government swiftly struck back, deploying Arab militias across the region who quickly earned a reputation for killings, rapes and razing of villages. The Security Council has insisted that the militias, known as the janjaweed, be disarmed.

The Sudanese government has said it needs time to disarm the militias and restore security to Darfur. It has already deployed additional police officers to monitor the area around displaced people's camps.

Human rights investigators and United Nations officials say men in uniform are sometimes accused of harassing and raping women outside the Darfur camps. Virtually no one reports rapes any more to Sudanese law enforcement authorities.

The United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, criticized the government for remaining in denial about widespread reports of rape.

"There is an obvious disconnect in the way the government sees" the situation, she said in a press statement on Saturday, following a weeklong tour of Darfur. "It's time to put the shame where it rightfully belongs: on the perpetrators and on those who allow these crimes to happen."

In the interview on Saturday, Mr. Pronk took pains to point out that militia attacks had quieted down in Darfur since early September, but that fighting between government forces and rebels was continuing in some places.

Conditions in Darfur remained at a standstill, he said, and the underlying grievances that fueled the rebellion had yet to be addressed. "No improvement, no deterioration," he said. "It's not yet fully under control."

United Nations officials here in West Darfur said Sunday that while there appeared to be no widespread, consistent pattern of violence in the area at the moment, sporadic clashes continued in a climate of fear and tension. A government official came under attack last week as Andrew Natsios, the director of the United States Agency for International Development, visited Murnei, a displaced people's camp southeast of here.

At the Riad camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Geneina on Sunday, women spoke of the risks that haunt them daily. To step out of the camp to gather brush in the empty scrubland was to subject themselves to rape, they said. "We cannot go out and get firewood; Omar Bashir will get us," said Nusra Suleiman Hakkar, 40, referring only half-jokingly to her president.

The government has come under increasing pressure most recently from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Ruud Lubbers - to consider a power-sharing deal to quell the Darfur rebellion.

Mr. Lubbers, also of the Netherlands, arrived here on Sunday for a three-day tour of the country. In the afternoon, Mr. Lubbers visited the Riad camp and talked with displaced people there.

"We don't have any rights in Sudan because we are black," said Mohamed Abakar Adam, 23, one of the men at the camp. "Even today, on a daily basis, we are being killed and raped."

He appealed for outside help and told Mr. Lubbers that he would return to his home village only if the United Nations - not his government - told him to go. "If foreigners did not come we would have all been in our graves by now," Mr. Adam said.

Speaking to reporters later, Mr. Lubbers said the man had delivered a strong message, hyperbole notwithstanding. "I think he is exaggerating, but the basic point is clear," Mr. Lubbers said. "He's trying to mobilize international presence."

If the Security Council ultimately decides on sanctions, its impact on the Sudanese government's finances and the lives of ordinary people is impossible to measure.

The Council has also agreed to empanel an independent commission to investigate whether the violence in western Sudan constitutes genocide.

Other than the members of the African Union, no country, including the United States, which has been the most outspoken in its charges of genocide, has said it is willing to send its own troops to Darfur.

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