United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan warned this week that the Sudanese government will be responsible if its refusal to accept the proposed deployment of a UN peacekeeping force leads to a worsening of the humanitarian situation in Darfur.
"The government will have to assume responsibility for [providing security], and if it doesn't succeed it will have lots of questions to answer to the rest of the world," Annan said this week in Egypt.
Last week, the UN Security Council passed a British-led resolution authorising the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in the Darfur region. However, the Sudanese government has rejected the resolution.
In the meantime, the African Union announced that a lack of funding will force it to pull out its 7 000 troops when their peacekeeping mandate expires at the end of the month.
"The major contributors - South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda - have had enough," said Henri Boshoff, military analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.
"They've been saying for some time that they do not have the funds to sustain their operation, and that their troops are stretched too thinly to do the job.
"In the past two months we have seen two cases of South African troops being disarmed by rebels. It just cannot go on like this. So, failing some last minute injection of funds, it looks like the African Mission in Sudan is over."
Annan has warned that the AU's departure will create a security vacuum and that there may be dire consequences for the region's three million inhabitants.
Humanitarian workers in the region have also expressed concern. Radhia Achouri, the spokesperson for the UN Mission in Sudan (Unmis) said an AU withdrawal may lead to increased violence, which will have a negative impact on humanitarian operations in the region.
"If the AU leaves, one scenario is certainly that there will be an escalation of violence and increased conflict between the signatories and the non-signatories to the peace agreement. "If there is an AU withdrawal without a third party to replace them and to securitise humanitarian operations, the humanitarian agencies will certainly have to restrict their activities."
After announcing that it was kicking AU troops out at the end of the month, the Sudanese government subsequently retracted its statement and said the AU force could stay but could not hand over to UN troops.
Sudanese Deputy Foreign Minister Mutris SaddigAli, who was in South Africa last week, told the Mail & Guardian that his government has alternative plans for keeping order in Darfur.
"There are practical and legal reasons for not accepting UN peacekeepers," he said.
"The peace treaty between the north and the south of Sudan called for the UN to police the process. However, the Darfur peace treaty specifically calls for the AU to do the job. The AU does not have the right to hand its mandate in Darfur to the UN."
Boshoff says this assertion is inaccurate: "The AU can do this. We have seen this before in Burundi. The AU has been acting as an interim measure in the case of no ceasefire. When a situation reaches an end-state, as it has in Darfur, the UN can take over."
Foreign ministry officials in Khartoum said this week that 10 000 Sudanese troops would be sent to Darfur to replace departing AU troops.
"We have reports of build-ups in the Darfur area. So far we do not have monitoring systems in place, but we have received reports that additional troops are arriving, also from outside of the region," said Achouri.
Time is running out for Darfur, with the Sudanese government giving the AU until early next week to make a final decision on whether it will remain in the region.
Even if the Sudanese government were to allow the UN to deploy peacekeeping troops, it would take until the end of the year to put the UN force in place. Analysts say that an extension of the AU's mandate is therefore crucial.
Fighting has escalated since the signing on May 5 of a peace agreement aimed at bringing an end to the three-year conflict that has killed more than 200 000 people. -- Additional reporting by Irin