U.N. Meeting Sought Over Darfur Crisis

The U.N. Security Council president has invited the key players in the Darfur crisis to a meeting next week on a proposed new resolution to transfer peacekeeping in the conflict-wracked region to a U.N. force, a move the Sudanese government strongly opposes.

Last week, the U.S. and Britain introduced a resolution that would authorize the financially strapped African Union to hand over peacekeeping to a much larger and better equipped U.N. force.

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The African Union has requested the transfer, saying it is not able to conduct long-term peacekeeping operations, but Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir remains staunchly opposed and has warned that Sudan's army would fight any U.N. forces sent to Darfur.

Ghana's U.N. Ambassador Nana Effah-Apenteng, the council president for August, said Monday he sent invitations last week to the African Union, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Sudanese government to meet the council to discuss the proposed resolution.

He said the Arab League and the OIC accepted in principle and he was waiting for the others to reply. "We haven't finalized it," he said.

U.N. diplomats said Effah-Apenteng proposed holding the meeting on Monday, but Qatar — the only Arab member of the council — objected, saying it was too early to suggest a meeting or consider a resolution. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were closed to the media.

CountryWatch: Sudan

A May peace agreement signed by the government and one of the major rebel groups was supposed to help end the conflict in Darfur. Instead, it has sparked months of fighting between rival rebel factions that has added to the toll of the dead and displaced.

Aid groups, the U.N. and AU peacekeepers say rebel factions are seeking to gain advantage before a permanent peace comes to a region where more than 200,000 people have been killed since 2003 when ethnic African tribes revolted against the Arab-led Khartoum government.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said Washington and London want the resolution adopted as quickly as possible because the situation in Darfur "is deteriorating." In the latest violence, two AU soldiers were killed and three wounded in an ambush by unidentified fighters Saturday.

"We want the United Nations urgently to support African Union forces in Darfur as a step towards their replacement by an effective U.N. force on the ground," he said in a statement.

Sudan's Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al Mardhi denounced the U.S.-British draft on Sunday, calling it "wicked" and "misleading." He warned the government would not protect international forces against attacks from Sudanese people and others from neighboring countries.

Sudan wants the AU force to remain in Darfur and be strengthened with the money that would be spent on a U.N. force.

The resolution would replace the 7,000-strong African Union force with a U.N. peacekeeping mission of about 22,600 — comprising up to 17,300 troops, 3,300 international police officers and 16 police units trained in riot and crowd control totaling about 2,000 officers.

The AU's mandate runs out on Sept. 30. The draft resolution calls for the U.N. force to begin deploying by Oct. 1. In the interim, it asks U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — who also recommended a transition to a U.N. force — to strengthen the AU force with additional aircraft and ground transport.