President opposes UN's involvement as crisis nears

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Indy Politics

As a critical week of talks on the crisis in Darfur began at the United Nations in New York yesterday, the Foreign Office minister responsible for African affairs, Lord Triesman, warned that Sudan had arrived at a "tipping point" and repeated a call to Khartoum to agree to the deployment of UN peacekeepers.

Leaders of the African Union will meet here tomorrow to discuss what happens at the end of this month when their own peacekeeping contingent in Sudan, about 7,700 troops, is theoretically due to end its mission and withdraw. President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan is expected to attend.

"I believe we're coming to a key moment," Lord Triesman said. "We are 12 days from the point at which the African Union will ... withdraw its force from Darfur. We may be arriving at what I would describe as the tipping point in Sudan."

Britain and other countries are counting on the AU soldiers staying in Darfur for at least a few more months. While the UN Security Council has agreed on replacing them with UN peacekeepers, it still needs the go-ahead from President Bashir and there is no sign that is forthcoming.

The UN's humanitarian co-ordinator in Sudan, Manuel Aranda da Silva, pleaded for a rolling forward of the AU mission. "We feel very strongly that any pullout of the peacekeepers ... will trigger a much more serious situation," he said in Khartoum, predicting that another 350,000 could be driven from their homes within a month of a pullout.

Questioned about a proposal recently by Tony Blair about a package of economic incentives for Sudan if it allowed in UN troops, Lord Triesman insisted that nothing would be put on the table "until there is peace and security on the ground".