Sudan Approves Peacekeeping Plan

Sudan has accepted a United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force. As many as 23,000 troops and police will be deployed in Darfur. But some U.N. diplomats fear conditions may be attached.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

And now to the United Nations, where today the U.N.'s chief of peacekeeping is talking about Darfur, Sudan.

War has dragged on there and now for four years. The U.N. has been trying to send peacekeepers to Darfur to protect the millions who've been displaced by the fighting. Yesterday Sudan gave the U.N. the green light to work with the African Union to set up what they're calling a hybrid force of nearly 20,000 troops.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: It was not so long ago that Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, blasted the idea of having U.N. troops in Darfur, saying they would be viewed as neo-colonialist. He had been insisting that the U.N. simply support African Union monitors already on the ground.

But yesterday his government agreed to a detailed plan by the African Union and the U.N. to have a joint force of about 23,000 troops and police with Africans in the lead. U.S. State Department spokesman John McCormack is still sounding wary, given Bashir's record of backtracking on promises.

Mr. SEAN McCORMACK (U.S. State Department Spokesman): President Bashir has made promises before about accepting a A.U./U.N. hybrid force. But there's always the fine print. And in this case the fine print seems to be that the force should be limited to African troops.

KELEMEN: McCormack says there simply aren't enough well-trained African peacekeepers to do the job of protecting civilians crowded in camps. At the U.N., spokeswoman Michele Montas made clear the U.N. will try to fill the ranks with African troops but won't be limited by this.

Ms. MICHELE MONTAS (United Nations): If we can get enough African troops, it would be essentially African troops. It's just a question of availability of troops, which is really the issue.

KELEMEN: There are some other differences that were glossed over in the deal reached in Addis Ababa yesterday. That's according to Alex de Waal, co-author of "Darfur: A Short History of a Long War."

Mr. ALEX DE WAAL, (Social Science Research Council): There is now agreement on any expedited, accelerated deployment of troops over the next few weeks, getting boots on the ground right now, so there won't be, I think, disappointment among Darfurians about the speed at which these commitments are translated into reality.

KELEMEN: De Waal, who's with the Social Science Research Council in New York, says there could be some confusion too about how the A.U. and U.N. will do this operation jointly. This is a first for the U.N.

He's also worried that international diplomats have spent most of their energy on this issue, the makeup of a protection force, and not enough energy getting a workable ceasefire and peace agreement in place. Without a peace agreement, Duvall says, there is not much outside troops can do.

Mr. DE WAAL: They can provide some protection to civilians in displaced camps and some protection to humanitarian workers, but the overall job of ending the bloodshed, the suffering, the displacement in Darfur can only come about through a negotiated peace agreement.

KELEMEN: The U.N Security Council is taking a trip to Africa starting this weekend and will stop in Khartoum. De Waal believes one reason Bashir has been so outspoken on this issue of peacekeepers is that he doesn't trust U.S. motives.

Mr. DE WAAL: He fears that lurking behind the stated agenda of peace and protection is an agenda of regime change, of using military force to change the nature of the government, maybe remove him from power. And his theory is once the camel got its nose in the tent in the form of U.N troops, then the rest of it would follow.

KELEMEN: The U.S. won't be sending peacekeepers to Darfur though. The State Department says it will use its diplomatic muscle and help fund the effort to make the U.N. African Union force a reality.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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