As Darfur Aid Efforts Struggle, Sudan Rejects 'Foreign Intervention'

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Humanitarian agencies operating in Sudan's eastern region of Darfur say a lack of security is hindering their activities, but Sudan's Islamist president says a more robust United Nations peacekeeping force will not be allowed in the troubled region for now.

"The success of an African Union mission [deployed in Darfur] is a success for Africa and testimony of their ability to achieve peace and stability in the region without foreign intervention," Omar al-Bashir told reporters in the Kenyan capital during a summit of East Africa's seven-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Because of this, he said, Sudan was supporting the A.U. forces and rejecting "any form of foreign intervention."

Al-Bashir said his opposition to a U.N. peacekeeping force replacing the cash-strapped, 7,000-strong A.U. mission was based on what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Those lessons should not be repeated in the African continent," he said.

Plans for a U.N. force to take over from the A.U. are driven by international concern that the three-year-old conflict between two rebel groups and government-supported militia could degenerate further. More than 180,000 people have been killed and two million been displaced.

The U.N. has described Darfur as the world's most serious humanitarian crisis.

James Lawrence of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said in an interview here that sporadic fighting and attacks against civilians was affecting relief efforts in northwest and southern Darfur.

"The biggest problem of Darfur is lack of security. It is hindering the provision of primary health care to refugees."

Aid groups have reported increased banditry and attacks against humanitarian convoys. Because of the problems the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says it has halved its operating budget in Darfur.

In a statement, the State Department criticized the Sudanese government for closing several U.S.-supported humanitarian distribution facilities, and urged Khartoum to remove all obstacles to the delivery of aid.

The government earlier mobilized tens of thousands of people to protest the proposed U.N. plan, with some demonstrators threatening a "holy war."

Human Rights Watch director for Africa, Peter Takirambudde, suspects Khartoum is blocking a U.N. force because it fears that "a larger, better-equipped force might hinder its abusive agenda in Darfur."

The group said displaced people faced almost daily attacks from government-backed militiamen, with rapes and sexual assaults reported.

Militia groups have also launched cross-border raids on villages in neighboring Chad - where many Darfurian refugees are located - looting property and livestock.

Human Rights Watch says that although the government pledged to cease aerial attacks, but helicopter gunships had been redeployed in Darfur in recent months.

"Both the government and rebel forces are responsible for numerous ceasefire violations in the past few months," it said.

Earlier this month the A.U. extended the mandate for its force for six months, up to October, but agreed in principle to an eventual transition to a U.N. operation.

The A.U. mission has scant resources and its mandate does not allow it to intervene in combat even when the lives of civilians are in danger.

The U.S. government also wants NATO, which is currently providing logistical and equipment support to the A.U. forces, to play a bigger role in the peacekeeping.

NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, visiting Washington Tuesday, said NATO would support a U.N. mission with logistical and training assistance, but not contribute troops to the operation.

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