Sudan Drops Objections to U.N. Aid in Darfur
|New York Times, 17 Avril 2007|
Sudan said Monday that it had dropped its objections to large-scale United Nations assistance to the overwhelmed African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, setting the stage for the possible assignment there of United Nations peacekeepers.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan has repeatedly defied United Nations 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 Mohamad, 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 that Sudan would accept what is known as the “heavy support package” and that it hoped that 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 steps are the second stage of a much delayed three-stage proposal whose ultimate aim is to create a 21,000-member joint African Union-United Nations force to replace the 7,000-member African Union force there now.
It is this force that most observers believe is necessary to curb the continuing violence in Darfur, but whether the agreement on Monday will lead to its creation is far from assured because of Mr. Bashir’s record of resistance.
More than 200,000 people have died in the Darfur region of western Sudan and 2.3 million have been uprooted from their land and subjected to repeated attacks from Arab janjaweed militias supported and equipped by the Khartoum government.
The Security Council passed a resolution creating the force on Aug. 31, but it specified that the force could only be deployed with the consent of the Sudanese government. That has given Mr. Bashir the power to bar the force from Darfur, despite growing international demand for it.
Mr. Bashir has been resisting significant United Nations assistance for months, at some points seeming to accept proposals in talks with Mr. Ban and other officials, only to back away and seek to renegotiate them.
As international pressure mounted in recent weeks and agreement on the second phase appeared close, Mr. Bashir raised a new barrier, saying he would not allow the assignment of the helicopter gunships. In response, Mr. Ban gave assurances that they would not be used in any offensive operations. Monday’s letter notified the United Nations of “Sudan’s approval of the helicopter component.”
During a Middle East trip last month, Mr. Ban directed his own authority at Mr. Bashir in two meetings that lasted a total of three and a half hours during the Arab League summit meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
At the conclusion, Mr. Ban said he thought he had ended the impasse over the heavy support stage, but rights groups and others with experience in dealing with Mr. Bashir expressed doubts, suggesting the Sudanese leader was simply using the dispute to continue keeping peacekeepers out of Darfur.
The announcement on Monday seemed to bear out Mr. Ban’s assertion. “This is a very positive sign, and I and the African Union intend to move quickly to prepare for the deployment,” he said.
Pressure had been applied by Mr. Ban, the African Union and members of the Arab League who, according to one of Mr. Ban’s aides, had also lost patience with Mr. Bashir and offered him none of the “solace” in Riyadh that he was accustomed to from that group.
John D. Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, brought United States influence to bear in a weekend visit to Sudan.
At a news conference in Khartoum on Monday, Mr. Negroponte said, “We must move quickly to a larger hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force with a single unified chain of command that conforms to U.N. standards and practices.”
He added, “The humanitarian situation in Darfur calls urgently for dispatching such a force.”
Mr. Negroponte noted that the agreement called for the preponderance of the forces and the commanders to be from Africa. This is seen at the United Nations as the best way to get around Mr. Bashir’s claim that outsiders would threaten his country’s security.
But it has still not brought the Sudanese leader around to agreeing on deployment of the full hybrid force, the only step that most observers of the Darfur crisis believe will curb the continuing violence there.