Sudan blocks UN plan for peacekeeping force

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The UN Security Council has attempted to raise the pressure on the Khartoum government to co-operate with international efforts to end the Darfur killings by establishing a UN peacekeeping force for the Sudanese province.

The council adopted a resolution yesterday that strengthened the mandate of a struggling African mission and injected fresh military assets. It set out plans for up to 22,500 UN troops and police officers to be deployed this year. The troops would bolster the existing 7,000-member African force, which would be absorbed by the UN mission.

However, the resolution made it clear that the UN force could only take over from the African troops in Darfur with the agreement of the Sudanese government - which remains opposed to its deployment. The Sudanese government rejected the UN resolution last night. Human rights monitors warned that the resolution, although adopted with the intention of halting the violence that has left tens of thousands of people dead and displaced 2.5 million over three years, was an empty promise.

The Sudanese President, Lt Gen Omar Al-Bashir, has warned that Sudan would confront any international forces sent to Darfur and fight them "as Hizbollah beat Israeli forces" in Lebanon.

The resolution was passed by 12 votes to 0, with Russia, China and Qatar abstaining. Sudan's UN representatives boycotted the session. The decision by the council's only Arab member to refrain from supporting the resolution was a measure of the Islamic government's success in blocking a UN force.

Britain and America, which sponsored the resolution, are frustrated with the lack of progress in implementing a peace agreement for Darfur. The violence in the western province the size of France has worsened since peace accords were signed last May between the government and two rebel groups.

The Sudanese military plans to move 10,500 troops to Darfur to face rebels who have refused to sign the agreements that provided for some power-sharing, raising fears of a full-scale war.

Jan Egeland, the UN's chief humanitarian official, told the Security Council this week that he feared "a man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale" within weeks unless the council acted immediately to deal with the spiralling violence and displacement.

A Sudanese driver for the International Red Cross on Wednesday became the 12th aid worker to be killed in the Darfur region.

Mr Egeland warned of "hundreds of thousands of deaths" if aid operations - already at grave risk because of attacks on workers, reduced access, and funding shortfalls - collapse.

Darfur rebels said yesterday that Sudanese planes and troops attacked villages in the western region before the Security Council vote. The Sudanese government and its allied Arab militia have been accused of a scorched earth policy that has driven local black African villagers from their homes, following a rebellion by black African tribes.