Sudan blocks UN troops in fear Darfur could become 'graveyard'

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The Independent Online

The African Union (AU) has been struggling with an under-resourced and under-equipped team of 7,000 so-called ceasefire monitors to protect civilians in Darfur from marauding government forces and allied Arab militias who have forced more than two million people from their homes.

British diplomats had been confident that the AU would formally ask the UN to take over responsibility for the Darfur peacekeepers at a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's Capital, which ended yesterday. However, Sudan's government is bitterly opposed to the UN taking over. Its President, Omar el-Bashir, has warned that Darfur would be the "graveyard" of foreign troops and threatened that they could be targeted by al-Qa'ida or other extremist elements.

At the Addis meeting, where Sudan campaigned strongly against the transfer to the UN, warning that it would spell the end of peace talks between the government and rebel groups, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union decided to extend the AU mission to the end of September. There is no guarantee that the six-month delay will be followed by an agreement to transfer to the UN.

Even if there had been agreement yesterday, it would have taken nine months before an international force could be dispatched by the UN to the region. About 300,000 people have been killed in the three-year conflict.