Protesters tell West to keep troops out of Darfur

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The Independent Online

Tens of thousands of Sudanese marched on UN offices in Khartoum yesterday in an officially orchestrated demonstration to protest against the deployment of Western forces in Sudan's Darfur region.

Tens of thousands of Sudanese marched on UN offices in Khartoum yesterday in an officially orchestrated demonstration to protest against the deployment of Western forces in Sudan's Darfur region.

Up to 100,000 people took to the streets chanting anti-American slogans, in a mark of the Khartoum government's success in depicting possible Western intervention as a hostile act.

The UN Security Council has given the government 30 days to disarm Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, who have been accused of the ethnic cleansing of black African families, or face the prospect of economic sanctions. No military threat has been levelled against the Sudanese government however.

The Darfur conflict, which has killed 30,000 people, has been described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis and has left an estimated 2.2 million homeless people in need of aid.

Some protesters shouted "Annan, Annan, shame, shame," condemning the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, for his perceived pro-American stance. "Annan, Annan, you coward. We will not be ruled by the Americans." The protesters, who also held up banners saying "G Bush: hands off Sudan" were led by the secretary general of the ruling National Congress party, Ibrahim Ahmed Omar.

The Khartoum government has reluctantly agreed that African Union (AU) ceasefire monitors, who are observing a ceasefire between the government and rebel forces in Darfur, may be protected by AU soldiers. The African Union said yesterday that it planned to significantly expand the number of troops from 300 to 2,000. The Dutch government has agreed to airlift the first contingent of 360 African troops to Sudan. The African Union is also considering broadening the original mandate of the AU force to include a peacekeeping role, a spokesman, Adam Thiam, said.

But the Khartoum government has warned that British or American troops would face an Iraq-style insurgency if they were dispatched to Darfur. The Sudanese position is viewed with sympathy in other Arab capitals, where there is considerable resistance to Western intervention in another Muslim country, after Iraq.

Tony Blair has made it clear that any talk of sending British soldiers to Sudan is premature, and the US has no intention of sending troops. Foreign Office officials say the Government is letting the African Union take the lead, and is waiting to see whether Sudan complies with a 30-day UN deadline before looking at further options.

France has deployed 200 troops along the Chadian border with Sudan, after 180,000 refugees fled into the neighbouring country.

The UN is meanwhile pressing Western countries to help the Nigerian and Rwandan governments, who are each to provide 1,000 soldiers for Sudan, by providing logistical aid and supplies. European Union experts are in the region studying the AU needs.

The Department for International Development yesterday supplied two aircraft to enable water and sanitation equipment to be flown to the region on behalf of Oxfam and the International Rescue Committee.

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