KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan's vice president told a visiting U.S. delegation that the country opposed a proposal to deploy international peacekeepers to Darfur, but was committed to negotiations to end tensions in the region, state media reported Monday.
Bolton expressed frustration with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.N. officials over the pace of preparation for the mission, which would replace 7,000 African Union troops. He also said African and Arab diplomats on the Security Council needed to move more quickly.
"We're prepared, but the main thing, I think, is to get the internal U.N. operation to be moving more quickly, which we'd like to see," he said.
The Security Council on Feb. 3 urged the United Nations to start planning to take over the mission. Annan has urged major powers to take part, saying an expanded force will need the kind of assets only a highly capable military can provide.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said United Nations officials were in talks with African leaders about the force and that planning for the mission "is moving full-steam ahead." The African Union's mandate in Darfur expires on March 31.
"Sudan rejects replacement of the African Union forces with United Nations forces," Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha told the 11-member U.S. congressional delegation Sunday night after they returned from Darfur, according to a Monday report by the state-run Sudan News Agency.
The mandate of the African Union force in Darfur expires March 31.
SUNA said Taha told the delegates that Sudan was committed to resolving the Darfur problem through peaceful negotiations, and blamed the rebels for procrastinating in the ongoing peace talks in Nigeria.
Samani Al-Wasilla, state minister of Foreign Affairs, said Taha told the U.S. delegation the conflict in Darfur was "a situation of security violations and intertribal fighting over water and grazing areas and could not under any circumstance be described as a genocide."
The delegation, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, left Sudan Sunday night.
Two rebel groups and the Sudanese government met last week in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, in negotiations aimed at ending the conflict in Darfur that has left at least 180,000 people dead in three years, mainly of hunger and disease.
The conflict began when rebels from the region's ethnic African population revolted, accusing the Arab-dominated government of discrimination and decades of neglect.
President Bush said Friday that calming the Darfur region will require "probably double" the current number of international peacekeepers and a coordinating role for NATO. Bush did not say whether U.S. forces should participate directly.