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SUDAN: Showdown Looms Over Darfur Peacekeeping

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 8 2006 (IPS) - Worried that Sudanese military action in northern Darfur will unleash another round of human misery in the strife-torn region, some of the world’s leading rights groups in the West are renewing calls for immediate sanctions against Khartoum.

The demand comes in response to claims by international observers that Sudanese troops have killed dozens of innocent people and that its bombing of civilian areas in northern Darfur has resulted in the displacement of more than 1,000 villagers.

“A penalty for indiscriminate bombing in Darfur is U.N. Security Council sanction, which should be imposed now,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The London-based Amnesty International and Washington-based Africa Action have also voiced support for calls to impose targeted sanctions against senior Sudanese officials in Khartoum.

The Sudanese government has denied reports of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and describes such claims as “exaggerations”. However, various U.N. agencies have reported several civilian deaths amid warnings of a “major catastrophe” in the offing.

“Millions of people are already at grave risk,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said Friday. “Hundreds are still dying and thousands are still being forcibly displaced.”

Last week, the 15-member U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that would send more than 17,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, but the Sudanese government flatly rejected the move, arguing that it can address the issue of violence in the region by using its own military.

The resolution, which was not endorsed by Russia, China or Qatar, does not call for sanctions. Rather it seeks “the consent” of Khartoum government for the U.N. plan to deploy its forces in Darfur.

Early this week, Khartoum made it clear that not only does it reject any U.N. force in Darfur, it would also like to see the African Union conclude its peacekeeping operations there by the end of this month.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan tried hard to convince the Sudanese government to accept the U.N. force, but in vain.

“Blue helmets would be there to help,” he told reporters in Alexandria, Egypt Tuesday. “We are not going there to invade. We have no other intentions.”

Visibly frustrated with the Sudanese response, on Friday Annan clearly hinted at the possibility that the Sudanese government’s continued defiance could lead to punitive measures against its senior officials.

“The situation on the ground is serious, is desperate,” Annan told IPS. “If they do not accept help, and the African Union has made it quite clear that they do not have the capacity to continue and they welcome a transition to the U.N., so if [Khartoum] denies the U.N. presence, discourages the African Union, and they leave and the situation gets really desperate with thousands, even larger numbers, suffering or being killed, they are placing themselves in a situation where the leadership may be held collectively and individually responsible for what happens to the population in Darfur.”

Annan said that in recent days he has worked with “quite a few governments” to try to get the Sudanese government to “show flexibility,” but acknowledged that he failed.

“We have so far not been successful,” he said.

In response to Khartoum’s assertion that it can address the Darfur situation on its own, Annan added, “If the Sudanese government had been able to do it itself, I don’t think we would be having this debate.”

The Security Council is scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss the Sudanese government’s response to its resolution on peacekeeping and the future of the AU force in Darfur, whose mandate is due to expire by the end of this month.

A senior U.N. official close to Annan told IPS, however, that nothing concrete is expected to come out of the meeting on Monday, with the Council members continuing to have differences of opinion on the question of Darfur.

In the past, diplomats from Russia and China have expressed their reservations about imposing sanctions against the Khartoum government and many believe that both the veto-welding members are still opposed to adopting a sanctions-oriented approach as a tool to change political behaviour in Khartoum.

“The only thing we can do at the moment is keep the African Union alive,” said the official, who did not want to be named. “It’s the only game in town.”

U.N. humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organisations say that in the past two months, hundreds of innocent people in Darfur have been killed, over 50,000 displaced and more than 200 women and girls raped.

“Our nightmares have become realities,” said Jan Egeland, chief of U.N. humanitarian operations, in a recent statement that warned the Security Council of a looming humanitarian disaster in the region.

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