Wednesday, June 14, 2006
CNN News, June 9, 2006.
EL FASHER, Sudan (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council found strong opposition to sending a U.N. force to replace African Union peacekeepers in conflict-wracked Darfur on Friday, with one tribal chief threatening a "jihad" if non-African troops come to this vast Muslim region.
The council steered clear of the volatile camps surrounding the north Darfur town of El Fasher, where thousands of people who fled their homes have taken refuge. Security concerns were sparked by strong opposition to a Darfur peace agreement the government and the main rebel group signed May 5.
Council members met government and tribal leaders, relief workers and about 15 people from the camps representing the internally displaced.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir told the council in Khartoum on Tuesday that his government will move ahead with discussions on the possible transfer of peacekeeping duties to the United Nations -- but it refused to give an immediate green light to a U.N. force.
The government's reluctance to replace the African Union force was echoed by tribal and youth leaders invited to meet the council in Darfur.
Mowadh Jalaladin, a representative of the Barty tribe, which he said has about 250,000 members, said handing over to a U.N. force "would inaugurate foreign occupation and intervention" and remind Sudanese of the colonial past, echoing earlier government rhetoric that has fanned anti-U.N. sentiment.
Warning in al Qaeda video
The cry also has been taken up by international extremists. Al-Jazeera satellite channel on Friday broadcast a videotape by the deputy leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, in which he said the U.N. Security Council visit to Sudan was "to prepare to occupy and divide it." (Full story)
In a tape aired on Arab television in April, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden urged followers to fight any U.N. peacekeeping force in Sudan.
If a U.N. force comes to Darfur, Jalaladin said, "We are declaring jihad against it.
"It means death. It means defending Sudan and Islam," Jalaladin said.
"The root causes of the Darfur conflict are the doing of the Jewish organizations who financed this armed rebellion," he claimed. "We don't want the Security Council to be an instrument of the ugly undertakings of the United States of America."
Decades of low-level clashes in Darfur over land and water erupted in early 2003 when ethnic African rebel groups rose up against the Arab-led government in Khartoum. The government is accused of responding by unleashing ethnic Arab militias known as janjaweed who have been accused of some of the war's worst atrocities.
Khartoum denies backing the janjaweed but agreed under the May 5 deal to disarm and dismantle them.
Barwd Dusa, leader of the locality of Tina and a chief of the Zagawa tribe who also claims to represent about 250,000 people, took a much more moderate stance but still favored keeping African troops in this vast western region, which is about the size of France.
"We would like for the United Nations to help the African Union in supporting the troops of the African Union in order to enforce the peace agreement on the ground," he said.
Tribal leader: 'Train of peace ... going slowly'
Since May 5, when the government and the largest rebel group in Darfur signed a peace agreement, he said, "our lives changed, we changed, our mind-set changed and we are feeling more reassured and we celebrated at the level of the government, the individuals ...."
"The overwhelming majority of the population of Darfur in general wants peace," Dusa said.
He urged the two rebel groups that are refusing to sign the agreement to drop their opposition "because we cannot take any more war and any more instability."
"The train of peace has moved. It's going slowly, but it's gaining speed anyway. If anybody misses it, the peace will be a very difficult endeavor to achieve," Dusa said.
Ibrahim Abdurazig, leader of north Darfur's National Youth Association, also called for the rebel holdouts to sign the agreement and an "African solution."
The African Union force "respects the customs and moral values" of the Darfur people "and they don't want any foreigners to meddle," he said.
The 15 council ambassadors were greeted at the airport by more 100 government officials and tribal leaders dressed in traditional white robes and turbans and colorfully dressed women shouting "Alahu Akbar," or "God is Great."
Osman Yusouf Kibir, the wali or governor of North Darfur, told reporters after meeting the council that they had agreed on many issues.
"We are very glad that the mission of the Security Council comes to explore means to support our activities here, both on the humanitarian and the security also, and we are very glad to hear that they will do their level best to explore peace and support us," he said. "We think it's a very successful meeting."
Asked about Jalaladin's call for jihad if a U.N. force comes to Darfur, he said the transfer was being discussed with the president and "we fully respect what transpires out of the interaction between the government and the international community."
Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, who is leading the council delegation, said the council is trying to expedite the Darfur Peace Agreement.
"We've set out to the wali our concerns and what is vital is that there should be a rapid improvement in the security situation here, especially for the women, and that the humanitarian access must be better assured so that as a result of the agreement ... there should be a real and rapid improvement," he said.