President dashes hopes for Darfur peacekeepers

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The Independent Online

The Sudanese President has dashed Western hopes of deploying a strengthened "hybrid" peacekeeping force in Darfur to help stop the killings in the western Sudanese province.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, speaking at a news conference in Khartoum, said that "any talk that we accepted joint forces is a lie". He was referring to the conclusions of a meeting on 16 November in Addis Ababa which had been described by Tony Blair as an "important breakthrough".

The Addis Ababa meeting ended with an agreement "in principle" on a joint UN-African Union force with a strengthened mandate to protect civilians fleeing a reign of terror unleashed by the Khartoum government and allied Arab militias. About 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million forced to flee in the past three years.

But important questions remained concerning the size of the force and the command. President Bashir's response in writing is expected to be received today at a meeting in Nigeria.

However, in his comments on Monday, he made it clear he remained opposed to a significant increase in the size of the force, which is being run by the African Union with a total of 7,000 troops.

Rejecting the internationally agreed call for 17,000 troops and 3,000 police for Darfur, he said: "The AU force commander... asked for two extra battalions... so only two battalions more are needed."

The newly formed UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has rejected a resolution, supported by the EU and Canada, which called for Khartoum to prosecute those responsible for the Darfur killings.