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Sudan denies visas to Darfur for UN military group

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Apr 19 (Reuters) Sudan's president refused to grant visas to Darfur for a UN military assessment mission that wanted to plan for a UN peacekeeping mission, a UN spokesman said today.

The Khartoum government has not consented to UN troops to augment the African Union soldiers currently trying to stop atrocities in the violent Darfur region but officials said they would discuss it after a peace agreement under negotiation in Abuja, Nigeria.

Hedi Annabi, a U.N. assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, went to Khartoum this week and spoke to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and other officials about sending the UN team to Darfur.

''They felt this was not the time for a UN assessment mission to go into Darfur until the Abuja process was completed,'' UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. ''We have a clear political line from the Sudanese at this point.'' US Ambassador John Bolton said ''That's clearly a mistake that undercuts our ability to do contingency planning.'' But Dujarric said contingency planning continued and options for an eventual force in Darfur would be presented to the Security Council.

''It's much more a bump in the road than the end of the road for us in terms of contingency planning,'' Dujarric said.

Security Council diplomats agreed but said an on-site visit would have made the planning more accurate. Annabi, a Tunisian, was supposed to have a second meeting with Bashir but the United Nations said this did not take place.

Earlier this month Sudan denied permission for Jan Egeland, the outspoken UN emergency relief coordinator, to go to Darfur.

Salim Ahmed Salim, the African Union's chief mediator at the Abuja talks between the government and two rebels groups, told the Security Council yesterday he expected a cease-fire deal by April 30 but acknowledged that none of the sides had offered major concessions.

Still, there has been hesitation among African Union officials about placing their 7,000 troops in Darfur under UN command, with north African Arab nations supporting Sudan.

The Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003 when mostly non-Arab tribes took up arms accusing the Arab-dominated government of neglect.

Khartoum retaliated by arming mainly Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, who began a campaign of murder, rape, arson and plunder that drove more than 2 million villagers into squalid camps in Darfur and in neighboring Chad. Khartoum denies responsibility.

REUTERS PG PM0046

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