By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2006; A21
UNITED NATIONS, April 26 -- Sudan's president has rejected a U.N. appeal to allow its peacekeepers into the Darfur region to help stem a tide of violence that has left more than 100,000 dead and more than 2 million displaced over the past three years, a senior U.N. official told the Security Council on Wednesday.
The remarks represented a setback for a U.S.-backed proposal to send more than 15,000 U.N. and NATO peacekeepers to Darfur to replace an underequipped African Union force of more than 6,000 troops. The Bush administration has accused Sudan and a government-backed militia of committing genocide in Darfur.
Hedi Annabi, the United Nations' second-ranking peacekeeping official, told the 15-nation council in a closed session that Khartoum formally rejected a request to send an assessment mission there. "Such an assessment remains an indispensable step in the planning process," said Annabi, who briefed the council on a recent meeting with Sudan's president, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Bashir, in Khartoum.
Annabi warned that Sudan's opposition could doom U.N. peacekeeping plans. He suggested the council look outside the United Nations for troops if it decides to intervene in Darfur without an invitation from the government.
"The government of Sudan remains opposed to a transition to a United Nations operation in Darfur and has so far been unwilling to cooperate with our planning efforts," Annabi told the council.
The Bush administration accused Khartoum of stalling. "This is just delaying and delaying and delaying, and it's consistent with the pattern that the Sudanese government has followed for years in this," said John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Annabi said the Sudanese leader left open the possibility of some U.N. role in assisting peace efforts if Khartoum makes peace with two Darfurian rebel groups. Peace talks underway in Abuja, Nigeria, are to conclude Sunday.
If those talks fail, and the Security Council were to decide to intervene without Khartoum's approval, Annabi said that "such a mission is better undertaken by means other than a U.N. operation." The Bush administration has secured NATO approval for a plan to send several hundred NATO advisers to bolster the African Union peacekeeping mission, as a first step in the transition to a U.N. mission, officials said. The Bush administration also sponsored a resolution Tuesday imposing a travel ban and freezing the assets of a senior Sudanese air force officer and three other Sudanese nationals for committing war crimes or impeding the peace process in Darfur.
Darfur's two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, launched an insurgency in early 2003, alleging Khartoum was discriminating against the region's black African tribes. In an effort to quell the uprising, Sudan recruited, trained and supported local Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, who have murdered, raped and terrorized hundreds of thousands of civilians suspected of backing the rebels.
While the death toll is unknown, U.N. officials and outside analysts estimate that 100,000 to 400,000 may have died from violence, disease and hunger.
Senior U.N. officials say that violence in Darfur has escalated in recent months, forcing more than 200,000 civilians from their homes since December. New York-based Human Rights Watch reported last week that the Sudanese government has launched a new military offensive in South Darfur, targeting villages in rebel controlled territory. On Monday, Sudanese Antonov aircraft and helicopter gunships fired indiscriminately at civilians during a raid in South Darfur, according to the rights group.
"Khartoum's new attacks on civilians show the Security Council needs to move quickly on a U.N. protection force for Darfur," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director for Human Rights Watch. "They also show that the sanctions, while welcome, may not hit hard enough -- or high enough -- and civilians will continue to pay the price."
Staff writer Bradley Graham in Washington contributed to this report.