Bush hints at use of force in Darfur

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Diplomatic pressure on Sudan to allow 20,000 UN peacekeepers into the Darfur region was mounting last night, with President George Bush threatening to ignore Khartoum's refusal to allow the force in.

Mr Bush suggested that the world body would simply send troops "in order to save lives". Britain also upped the rhetoric, promising a "carrot and stick" approach to solving the three-year crisis, which has seen about 300,000 black Africans killed and 2.5 million displaced.

But Sudan remained defiant, with the President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, yesterday rejecting UN peacekeepers under any circumstances. "We have met with [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan and... clarified in detail that we reject the decision of the Security Council," he said at the Non-Aligned summit in Havana.

Writing in today's Independent on Sunday, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, calls for "concerted international action to bring a change of mind and actions from the government of Sudan" - although he stopped short of suggesting a UN force should go in without Sudan's approval.

The Conservatives called on Britain and the UN to "hit them [Sudan's leaders] where it matters: their money". The Tory international development spokesman, Andrew Mitchell, said: "Freeze their Swiss bank accounts and... let them know that if they step outside Sudan they will be packed off to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity."

For the past three years, the Sudanese military, along with the feared Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, have tried to crush a rebellion in the Darfur region by systematically wiping out villages. Men, women and children have been massacred, and rape has been employed as a weapon.

Some 13 UN resolutions have been passed condemning the killing, but none has so far stopped it. The most recent, calling for the deployment of UN troops to protect Darfur's citizens, has been hampered by Sudan's refusal to allow "blue helmets" in. Although some UN member states have labelled Khartoum's actions as genocide, the UN is requesting permission from the alleged perpetrators to take action to prevent it.

President Omar Bashir has likened a UN peacekeeping force to "Western colonisation" and has vowed to lead the "jihad" against it personally.

China is seen by many as the key player in persuading President Bashir to allow a UN force in. Beijing has major oil interests in Sudan and, with Russia, abstained from the Security Council vote on troop deployment. Mr Blair said he had raised the issue of Darfur with China's Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, who visited London last week.

There are currently 7,000 under-resourced African Union peacekeepers in Darfur. But the violence has increased since a fudged peace deal was signed in May by only one of the three rebel groups in the region, and the AU troops have been unable to do anything to stop it.

The AU's mandate ends on 30 September, and Sudan has insisted the soldiers leave. Instead, more than 10,000 Sudanese troops will be sent to "protect" citizens. These are the same Sudanese troops who, with the Janjaweed, forced Darfuris to flee in the first place.