Sudan softens opposition to UN troops in Darfur
|The Daily Telegraph, 08 Mai 2006|
Sudan began to buckle under international pressure yesterday when the regime said that United Nations peacekeepers may be allowed to deploy in Darfur.
Having publicly threatened to turn the region into a "graveyard" for foreign troops, President Omar al-Bashir's regime softened its opposition to any UN presence.
The move came after the signing of peace accords designed to end more than three years of bloodshed.
Mr Bashir's government and the largest faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) have agreed to end the fighting in return for Darfur receiving a greater share of Sudan's oil wealth and more representation in the Khartoum government.
But another faction of the SLA denounced the 85-page deal and refused to sign. Aid workers say Darfur has become so anarchic that enforcing a peace agreement and giving refugees enough confidence to go home may prove impossible.
Western diplomats in Khartoum have no doubt that only a UN force of between 12,000 and 20,000 troops would have any chance of achieving this.
Until yesterday, Sudan had vowed never to accept such a force. The regime had organised massive street protests and claimed any UN peacekeepers would be part of an American plot to dismember the country.
But the signing of peace accords in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, has changed the atmosphere.
"The government will assess whether or not it will need the assistance of foreign troops and it may decide to ask for a UN deployment," said Jamal Ibrahim, the foreign ministry spokesman in Khartoum.
"What is sure is that no foreign forces will come to Sudan without the consent of the government."
The regime also allowed Jan Egeland, the UN's under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, to visit Darfur after banning him from the region last month.
At least two million people have fled their homes in Darfur and about 300,000 have died since civil war broke out in 2003. An estimated 150,000 refugees have entered the camps since January.
The SLA rebels are bitterly divided along ethnic lines. The largest faction from the Zaghawa tribe has signed the Abuja agreement. But a rival group from the Fur tribe has vowed to continue fighting.