Sudan has signalled its intention to deal with the situation in Darfur by military force after ordering the 7,000 African Union (AU) troops overseeing a recently signed peace agreement to leave. They will be replaced by more than 10,000 Sudanese troops - a move which prompted one rights group to suggest that Khartoum may carry out genocide.
The AU troops, which have been struggling to keep a lid on violence since the peace agreement was signed by only one of three rebel groups in May, were given until the end of the month to leave Sudan.
Jan Egeland of the UN said "a man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale" was possible within weeks in Darfur unless the UN Security Council acted immediately.
The council passed a resolution last week to replace the weak AU force with 17,000 UN peacekeepers and more than 3,000 police officers. But Khartoum rejected the plan and vowed to fight any UN peacekeepers that entered the country. President Omar al-Bashir described the call for a UN force as "part of a comprehensive conspiracy for confiscating the country's sovereignty. Our decision is decisive rejection [of the UN resolution], then preparation for the confrontation [with UN forces]."
Some 10,000 Sudanese troops are expected to move into Darfur to replace the AU force. The build-up in north Darfur has already begun. The area of Kulkul, 40km north-west of north Darfur's capital, al-Fashar, was bombed by government aircraft on 28 August. Troops then moved into the town as civilians fled. Witnesses said the Arab militia known as the janjaweed attacked a village nearby.
Amnesty International has criticised the military build-up, accusing the Sudanese government of sending in the same troops who displaced Darfur's population to "protect" them.
A spokesman for Sudan's foreign ministry, Jamal Mohamed Ibrahim, said the decision to kick the AU out of Darfur was not Sudan's. "It is indicated before by the African Union itself," he said. "They said that by the end of September, they will not be able to continue with their assignment in Darfur. So we are just requesting now, since they can't finish and proceed with their assignment in Darfur. It is up to them now to leave. And we're asking them, please leave."
The AU's mandate in Darfur was originally due to end on 30 September, but following a donor conference that pledged more money to the near-bankrupt force, it agreed to continue until the end of the year - or until a UN force could replace it. But with the UN unable to send troops without Khartoum's agreement, the region's 2.5 million displaced people will now be left at the mercy of Sudan's forces and the janjaweed.
The Sudanese government's decision prompted the Aegis Trust, a British organisation that works to prevent genocide, to draw comparisons with Rwanda. "Millions of lives are in grave and immediate danger," said the chief executive, James Smith. "The genocide now faced could be on the scale of that in Rwanda in 1994. The government of Sudan will bear full responsibility for lives lost, whether through starvation or further violence."
The US has called the violence in Darfur "genocide" but, so far, the UN has only referred to "war crimes" or "crimes against humanity".
Two of the five permanent members of the Security Council - Russia and China - have strong economic links with Sudan. Along with Qatar, the sole Arab representative currently on the council, both abstained in last week's vote.
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