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Sudan postpones decision on UN force for Darfur

Written by: Staff
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HARTOUM, June 6 (Reuters) Sudan has put off a decision on a United Nations force for Darfur until a joint military mission surveys the violent region, visiting UN Security Council members were told today.

The 15-nation Council, represented by 10 ambassadors and five deputy ambassadors, conducted its first-ever visit to Sudan to try to convince the Khartoum government the United Nations did not intend to send an invasion force to Darfur or dispatch troops without Sudan's consent.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jamal Ibrahim said the government would take up the issue after the United Nations and the African Union conduct a military assessment mission this week and discuss their finding with the government. After that respective political parties would be consulted.

''So I think we are going on in the right direction,'' Ibrahim said after the council met Foreign Minister Lam Akol, a member of the former rebel Southern Sudan Liberation Movement, considered more sympathetic to the world body than other members of the government.

The final decision, diplomats said, would be up to President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, who was involved in today's meetings with the council members but who has remained noncommittal. ''He will take this one step at a time,'' said one envoy.

Ghana' UN ambassador, Nana Effah-Apen told a news conference the meetings emphasised ''better cooperation between the United Nations and the Sudanese authorities and that we need to work together.'' Sudan signed a peace agreement with the main Darfur rebel faction on May 5, but other rebels in Darfur refused to join.

Since then international efforts have intensified to persuade Khartoum to allow the United Nations to take over peacekeeping from 7,000 badly equipped and under-funded African Union troops.

The agreement, signed in Arusha, Nigeria, also provided for a more robust mandate for the African Union so it could protect civilians, at least 200,000 of whom have died since 2003 through fighting, hunger and disease. More than 2.5 million people have been forced to flee to miserable camps and rape is common.

Britain's UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, leader of the delegation, said at the news conference, ''The message we brought was that the council was holding out a hand to Sudan'' ...to alleviate the massive humanitarian crisis.

''There is no question of an intervention force,'' he said. He estimated that a UN operation would not be in place until the end of the year but the transition could begin well before that.

The Security Council has to authorise the mission.

Sudanese newspapers reflect fears a UN force would enter under enforcement provisions in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and have free military reign. Chapter 7 is used for parts of nearly all peacekeeping operations for protecting civilians and for self-defence.

According to Jones Parry, Chapter 7 ''is not an open ended use of force (and) is not targeted at government but those who want to undermine the (peace) agreement.'' Russia's deputy ambassador Konstantin Dolgov, said of Chapter 7, ''Once again, we have to take into consideration the views of the Sudanese government'', indicating council discussions would be heated when a mandate is devised.

The Security Council's 10-day trip includes Khartoum, southern Sudan, Darfur and Chad, as well as African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. The trip ends in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The fighting in Darfur escalated in early 2003 between African rebel farmers and Arab tribesmen, at one time armed by the government and blamed for many of the atrocities.

REUTERS SRS BST2336

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