KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan's president lashed out at the U.S. on Sunday, saying Washington's plans to create a "new Middle East" were behind an international push to replace African Union peacekeepers with U.N. forces in war-ravaged Darfur.
President Omar al-Bashir has always opposed United Nations intervention in Sudan's remote Darfur region, but he escalated his anti-Western rhetoric Sunday, targeting America in an appeal to muster domestic support for what he implied would be a lengthy face-off.
In a speech to cabinet ministers and journalists gathered in Khartoum, he said the United States and Britain wanted to recraft the region in Israel's interests.
"They want to use the Darfur issue to re-colonize Sudan," al-Bashir said defiantly.
The Sudanese leader, just back from an overseas trip to gather support from nonaligned nations and attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York, said Sudanese officials were unfairly scrutinized by U.S. Homeland Security during the visit.
In response, no American official in Sudan would be allowed to travel more than 25 kilometers away from the presidential palace in Khartoum without a special permit, al-Bashir said.
"The measure is effective as of Monday," he said.
The fact that the U.S. wasn't sanctioned for invading Iraq "in breach of every international treaty," nor Israel for "killing thousands of women and children in Lebanon," proves the U.N. is biased, al-Bashir said.
At least 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million chased from their homes in Darfur, an arid remote region of western Sudan where the government-backed Arab Janjaweed militia are blamed for what international observers have called a genocide against ethnic African villagers.
But al-Bashir said the humanitarian crisis there had been overblown by the Western media.
"I challenge any precise statistic that shows the fighting killed more than 10,000 people in Darfur," he said, adding that others may have died from famine.
Al-Bashir again voiced his "total rejection" of the Aug. 31 U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for 20,000 U.N.-commanded soldiers to take over peacekeeping in Darfur.
"The resolution would in effect put Sudan under an international mandate," al-Bashir said. "It negates every institution of the Sudanese state."
Instead, he praised the African Union's extension of its peacekeeping mission in Darfur as "a major victory." The underfunded and ill-equipped AU mission was scheduled to end Sept. 30, but has been extended until at least the end of the year.
African Union officials in Khartoum said Sunday that the AU would send more peacekeeping troops to Darfur region and toughen the soldiers' role in protecting civilians until the U.N. reaches a compromise with the Sudanese government.
"We are being asked to assume a broader and broader mission, but we need the means to do so," Monique Mukaruliza, acting head of the AU mission in Sudan, told The Associated Press.
AU leaders are finalizing plans to add 1,200 soldiers to the existing 7,000-strong force, officials said. Even more soldiers could come if NATO provided adequate logistics support and the Arab League and other international donors provided funding, the officials said.
Officials said AU peacekeepers would soon have new rules of engagement, under which they would not only monitor violence and investigate incidents, but also actively interfere to prevent attacks on civilians by the multiple rebel groups and pro-government militias that plague the region.
The AU's spokesman in Sudan, Nouredinne Mezni, said the new rules would enable peacekeepers to better implement the Darfur Peace Agreement signed in May between Sudan and the main rebel group there.
"With our current resources, we don't really have the means to fully implement the peace agreement," Mezni said.
Jan Pronk, the head of the U.N. in Sudan, said last week that the accord was "in a coma," and international aid groups say violence has only worsened since it was signed.
Infighting among splinter rebel factions is a major cause of the violence, along with a new offensive by the Sudanese military against rebels who refuse to join the peace deal. Khartoum is accused of bombing villages where these groups hide, in effect causing more civilian casualties.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has strongly condemned the escalation, warning that Khartoum was at risk of "disgrace" in Africa for refusing a U.N. peacekeeping force.
Some 100,000 more people have been displaced since the intended cease-fire in May, the U.N. says.
At least a quarter of all people in northern Darfur are now suffering from malnutrition, the U.N. has said. More than 350,000 are largely cut off from food aid and medical care because fighting makes the north too dangerous for aid agencies, U.N. officials say.