Darfur rebels reject new Chinese peacekeepers

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KHARTOUM, Nov 24 (Reuters) Rebels today demanded Beijing pull its peacekeepers out of Darfur, just hours after a unit of Chinese army engineers flew into the Sudanese region.

More than 130 Chinese engineers arrived in south Darfur's capital Nyala today to pave the way for a 26,000-strong United Nations/African Union force in the region, where four years of conflict have killed up to 200,000 people.

But the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said it would not allow the engineers onto land held by its forces. It accused Beijing of stoking the crisis by supporting Khartoum.

''They are not welcome... They can never come into our area,'' JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters.

''We oppose them coming because China is not interested in human rights. It is just interested in Sudan's resources. We are calling on them to quit Sudan, especially the petroleum areas.'' China has advised Sudan to cooperate with UN efforts to resolve the crisis but remains its largest arms supplier, with sales increasing 25-fold between 2002 and 2005. Total trade rose 124 per cent in the first half of this year compared to 2006.

JEM attacked a Chinese-controlled oil installation last month in the central Sudanese region of Kordofan, but Ibrahim declined to comment on whether it would target the engineers.

''OIL FOR BLOOD'' ''I am not saying I will attack them. I will not say I will not attack them. What I am saying is that they are taking our oil for blood,'' he said.

''China has so far only offered 1 million dollar for displaced Darfur people. Meanwhile they are sucking a million barrels of oil out of Sudan every day. We do not welcome them.'' The rebels have said they would welcome peacekeepers from any country but China. But Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir yesterday insisted China and Pakistan were the only non-African countries he would accept.

The widely read Sudan Tribune Web site today said the Chinese units were also opposed by Darfur's displaced people.

Hussein Abusharati, spokesman for Darfur Internationally Displaced People, told the Paris-based site that he rejected Beijing's involvement because ''genocide and robbery are taking place in Darfur since 2003 thanks to Chinese weapons''.

UN spokesman Ali Hamati said the 135 Chinese engineers and medical officers arrived in Nyala at 10.30 a.m. (1300 IST) wearing the blue berets and scarves of UN peacekeepers, the first of a 315-strong contingent promised by Beijing.

They will build bridges and roads and dig wells to prepare the ground for the 26,000 peacekeepers due from January onwards.

The hybrid force is supposed to replace a beleaguered 7,000 strong troop of African Union peacekeepers which is trying to maintain security in Darfur, roughly the size of France.

Ten AU peacekeepers were killed during a raid on their base in the eastern Darfur town of Haskanita in September. Khalil Ibrahim later blamed a breakaway faction of JEM for the attack.

International experts say the Darfur conflict between insurgent groups, the Sudanese government and state-backed militias, has killed more than 200,000 people and driven more than 4 million from their homes. Khartoum says the international media has exaggerated the scale of the conflict.

Reuters JT RN2033

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