Sudan agrees to UN aid for Darfur force

Posted in Africa | 17-Apr-07 | Author: Warren Hoge| Source: International Herald Tribune

Sudan's president Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a news conference in Khartoum, March 1, 2007.

UNITED NATIONS, New York: Sudan said Monday that it had dropped its objections to immediate international assistance for the overwhelmed African Union force in Darfur, setting the stage for the possible assignment there of UN peacekeepers.

Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, has repeatedly defied UN requests and pressure from governments elsewhere in Africa and around the world to permit international intervention in Darfur, saying such action would violate his country's sovereignty.

But on Monday, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, sent a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the 15 member states of the Security Council saying Sudan would now accept what is known as the "heavy support package" and hoped it would "proceed expeditiously."

The package calls for sending 3,000 well-equipped military police officers along with six attack helicopters and other aviation and logistics support to Darfur. The step represents the second stage of a much-delayed three-stage proposal whose ultimate aim is to create a 21,000-troop joint African Union-United Nations force to replace the 7,000-soldier African Union force there now.

Darfur is the region of Western Sudan where more than 200,000 people have died and some 2.5 million have been uprooted from their land and subjected to repeated attacks from Arab janjaweed militias supported and equipped by the Khartoum government.

Bashir has been resisting any UN assistance for months, appearing sometimes to accept proposals in talks with officials, including Ban, only to back away from the apparent agreements and to seek to renegotiate them.

As international pressure mounted in recent weeks and agreement on the second phase appeared close, Bashir insisted he would not allow the assignment of attack helicopters. The letter Monday from ambassador Abdalhaleem notified the United Nations of "Sudan's approval of the helicopter component."

Ban applied his own pressure last month in two meetings with Bashir that lasted a total of three and a half hours on the margins of the Arab League summit meeting in Riyadh.

At the conclusion, Ban said he thought he had ended the impasse over the heavy support stage, but rights groups and others with experience in dealing with Bashir suggested the Sudanese leader might have instead succeeded in once again delaying the deployment of UN peacekeepers to Darfur.

The announcement Monday follows the combined application of pressure from Ban, the African Union, and members of the Arab League. John Negroponte, deputy U.S. secretary of state, also brought Washington's influence to bear in a weekend visit to Sudan.

Whether the agreement leads to the creation of the joint force was far from assured because of Bashir's record of resistance.

"We must move quickly to a larger hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force with a single unified chain of command that conforms to UN standards and practices," Negroponte said Monday in Khartoum. "The humanitarian situation in Darfur calls urgently for dispatching such a force."