NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Violence in Sudan’s troubled Darfur will worsen and spread if U.N. peacekeepers replace a beleaguered 7,000-strong African Union force, a senior Sudanese government official said Wednesday.
The comments at a Nairobi news conference by Mohamed Elsamani, Sudan’s minister of state for foreign affairs, were part of Sudan’s diplomatic initiative across Africa to try to keep U.N. peacekeepers out of Darfur. Friday, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council will discuss the Darfur situation and the U.N. proposal.
In the Sudanese capital Wednesday, a huge, peaceful demonstration against the U.N. peacekeepers proposal brought downtown Khartoum to a standstill.
“Even if they send pure Muslim or Arab troops we will consider them invaders and will fight them,” Fatahi Khalil, the dean of the Sudanese Bar Association and secretary of the Popular Organization for the Defense of the Homeland and the Faith, told cheering crowds after handing over a memorandum of protest to a U.N. office in Sudan.
The protesters also called for the expulsion of Jan Pronk, the special U.N. envoy to Sudan, and of the top U.S. diplomat in Sudan. The United States has pushed for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.
In Nairobi, Elsamani said the solution to the crisis in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have died since a rebellion erupted three years ago, will come through AU-mediated peace talks. The talks Abuja, Nigeria, have made little progress.
“If the U.N arrives the troubles will spread in the region,” Elsamani said.
Elsamani met with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki early Wednesday and is expected to go to South Africa, Lesotho and Mozambique with a similar message, though he did not say when he will be in those countries.
Other Sudanese envoys have been sent to west African countries.
“Our position is that the AU has got no right to transfer the mission (to the U.N.) without taking the permission of Sudan,” Elsamani said. “It is not a process that will be accepted in Sudan.”
The AU has faced severe funding and logistical problems in Darfur. Elsamani called on African leaders to provide greater support to prevent the mission being branded a failure and hampering any future peacekeeping work it undertakes.
The African Union’s peacekeeping force mandate expires at the end of March. On Feb. 3, the Security Council recommended that the U.N. start planning to take over peacekeeping in Darfur.
Elsamani said that the U.N had been tainted, citing its failure to prevent the war in Iraq, the “bad conduct” of its peacekeepers in other missions and the human rights record of members states like the U.S. because of its treatment of prisoners at its base in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay.
His comments came as top European Union and U.S. officials are holding talks in Brussels, Belgium with Sudanese, African and U.N. officials to boost efforts to bring an end to the conflict.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is hosting the talks with the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the AU’s Commission.
Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in Sudan’s vast western region of Darfur erupted into large-scale violence in February 2003 when ethnic African tribes took up arms, accusing the Arab-dominated central government of neglect.
The government is accused of using Arab tribal militias known as Janjaweed a counterinsurgency strategy. The government denies the charge. The militias are accused of murdering and raping civilians and laying waste to villages.