The world body’s top envoy to Sudan said Tuesday that Al Qaeda has threatened him and any peacekeeping troops deployed there from outside Africa, following the Sudanese government’s rejection of a proposed U.N. force meant to protect civilians in the nation’s Darfur region.
U.N. special envoy Jan Pronk said the government in Khartoum deeply distrusts foreign intervention in its nation and fears that the presence of a United Nations or NATO force would be the beginning of a foreign occupation such as those that took place in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The U.N. is drawing up plans to transform a 7,000-strong African Union force into a U.N.-led operation as the regional troops run out of funding and logistical support. But Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir on Saturday denounced the U.N.'s plan to field a force of as many as 20,000 troops, some from outside Africa, to quell continuing violence in Darfur.
On Feb. 17, President Bush said the number of peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur should be doubled, perhaps with the support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Bashir responded Saturday that such international troops would be at risk.
“We are strongly opposed to any foreign intervention in Sudan, and Darfur will be a graveyard for any foreign troops venturing to enter,” he said in Khartoum. Bashir summoned Pronk on Monday to underline his government’s insistence on African troops.
Pronk returned to the U.N. on Tuesday and told reporters that there is an “atmosphere of fear and conspiracy” in Khartoum. “They speak about re-colonization, invasion and they speak about Iraq and Afghanistan ... and they speak about a conspiracy against the Arab and Islamic world,” he said.
The heated political climate in Khartoum has made negotiations over the next step difficult, Pronk said, describing intelligence that suggested that Al Qaeda terrorists were present in the Sudanese capital and had made death threats against him and any U.N. troops that might be deployed to the country.
Sudan’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Omar Manis, reiterated his government’s objections to the mission but questioned Pronk’s reports of Al Qaeda threats.
“I don’t know from where Mr. Pronk got this idea. Sudan is not Al Qaeda. We don’t speak for Al Qaeda,” he said.
Manis added that Khartoum prefers African troops to international soldiers, even if the existing force is absorbed by a U.N. mission.
“The Sudanese government has already said no,” Manis said. “If there are problems with the African Union, let us solve those problems. If there are financial constraints, give them more money. If there are logistical constraints, help them. But nobody seems to be interested in going that path.”
Pronk said the political stalemate must be broken because attacks against villagers in the Darfur region were again growing frequent. He described attacks in which thousands of Arab militiamen on camels and horses, followed by government army trucks, plundered Darfur. He also reported new attacks on refugee camps in Chad.
The militias, often backed by the government, have been razing villages in the region of western Sudan since rebel groups took up arms against the government in 2003. Hundreds of thousands of non-Arab villagers have been killed in the government-orchestrated campaign to oust the ethnic groups that supported the rebels, according to the U.N., and more than 2 million people have been displaced.
The attacks have continued despite a peace agreement in a separate Sudanese conflict reached last year, and the African Union forces are spread thin, Pronk said.
“We need a robust peace force in Darfur to prevent attacks on the civilians,” he said.