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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 September 2006, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Despair over Darfur
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Sudanese women walk at the Riyad refugee camp
The UN fears aid distribution could become impossible
Western policy is in near despair over Darfur, and governments are turning to Russia and China to see if they can put pressure on the Sudanese government to accept a UN peacekeeping force.

"There is a critical period now when the whole international community has to use its influence on Sudan," the British Minister for Africa Lord Triesman told reporters.

"Russia and China abstained in the security council vote authorising the UN force but said it was a question of timing not issues. I expect Darfur to be raised when the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao comes to London next week. China is as powerful an anyone in Africa these days.

"I won't disagree that the situation looks awful. Things have been going in the wrong direction except at the UN."

Western policy therefore does not accept that Sudan has said a final no to a UN force.

"At the end of this period, in which florid rhetoric is being used, Sudan's position will be impossible to sustain," said Lord Triesman.

However, he said that even if Sudan held to its view and did not accept the UN force, it was "not realistic to invade Sudan".

The problem is that while the government of Sudan has said the current and cash-starved 7,000-strong force from the African Union can stay after its current mandate runs out at the end of September, it insists that the AU troops cannot be incorporated into a more powerful replacement UN force of up to 17,300 soldiers and more than 3,000 police.

At the end of this period, in which florid rhetoric is being used, Sudan's position will be impossible to sustain
British Minister Lord Triesman

It said that such a UN force, mandated only last week by the Security Council, would violate its sovereignty and suggested that it was a bridgehead for the removal of an Islamic-oriented government. It hinted that the force might attract Islamic fighters to combat it, because Osama Bin Laden has already identified Darfur as a battlefield.

Instead, the government says it intends to send its own troops to fight against the rebel forces that did not accept the recent peace deal agreed in Nigeria, especially the National Redemption Front.

The UN fears an increase in fighting, making the provision of aid difficult or impossible.

However, Africa does not always follow the script. The African Union force apparently does not even have enough money to pull its troops out, so it might stay anyway and if a deal can be worked out, it might yet form part of a UN force.

Britain is willing to finance some at least of the costs and the British government has not given up hope that the AU force will be converted into a reinforced UN one.

"The General Assembly is coming up later this month in New York and there is a good opportunity for discussion there," said the British official. "Sudan said once that it would not accept the African Union force but did. It could change its mind again."

Bush's message

However, throughout this crisis, Sudan has managed to stave off UN intervention and it is not yet clear whether the UN force will ever get in.

Jendayi Frazer, US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
Jendayi Frazer visited President Bashir on behalf of President Bush

The United States insists that because Security Council resolution 1706 is written under the enforcement chapter of the UN, the force could go in regardless of what the government of Sudan wants, but obviously that is not the preferred option.

The US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, went to see Sudanese President Omar Bashir to deliver a message from President George W Bush, urging Sudan to allow the UN force in.

In a briefing on her return to Washington on 31 August, she said the resolution was "the key step to ultimately ending the crisis in Darfur, and the United States continues to support strengthening the African Union force in Darfur and having those troops become the core of a UN mission in Darfur".

Diplomatic game

Since the start of the crisis, Sudan has managed to avoid having an effective peacekeeping force in place - and it is still playing that diplomatic game.

Darfur has found itself a crisis that neither the UN nor the relatively new African Union can solve. The UN has lacked the will to intervene and the African Union has lacked the means.

Despite the statement from the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell in September 2004 that genocide had taken place in Darfur, a UN commission that reported in January 2005 concluded that while there had been crimes against humanity and war crimes, the government of Sudan "had not pursued a policy of genocide". A finding of genocide would have forced the UN to intervene more strongly.

Yet the scale of suffering is huge. Tens of thousands are reckoned to have died and the UN commission said 1.65m people had been forced from their homes, with another 200,000 as refugees in Chad.

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