Arab League Accused of Backing Khartoum

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

Nairobi, Kenya ( - The Arab League is partly to blame for Khartoum's opposition to the establishment of a United Nations peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region, according to political analysts and Sudanese non-governmental groups based in Western countries.

Despite the Sudanese government's objections, however, the U.N., United States and African Union are pressing ahead with diplomatic efforts aimed at setting up a U.N. force.

On Tuesday the Security Council asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send a team to Darfur before the end of the month to assess a plan for a U.N. force to relieve and replace an A.U. mission now in the region.

It also called on all parties involved in the conflict to ensure a smooth and successful transfer to a U.N. operation.

The conflict, which erupted three years ago between Arab militias backed by the Islamist government and Darfurian rebel groups, has claimed almost 200,000 lives and displaced another two million people.

Although both sides are Muslim, the victims are non-Arab Africans, and a group of civil society organizations charges that for this reason, the Arab League is unconcerned about the carnage.

"We strongly denounce the Sudan government and [the] Egypt-driven Arab League for rejecting deployment of U.N. forces in Darfur in preference for ailing A.U. forces," they said in a letter to Annan this week.

"Their position is totally inconsiderate and genocidal," added the 10 groups, including the U.K.-based Darfur Center for Human Rights and Development and Southern Sudan Voice for Freedom in Washington DC. The letter was also endorsed by 100-plus individuals described as "Sudanese and friends."

At a summit in Khartoum last month, the 22-member Arab League unanimously supported Sudan's rejection of a U.N. force.

The government continues to maintain that position, and National Assembly Speaker Ahmad Ibrahim al-Tahir in Khartoum Tuesday reiterated the legislature's opposition to replacing A.U. forces with U.N. troops. He said African forces were capable of carrying out their role in Darfur.

But in their letter to Annan, the organizations said the 7,000-strong A.U. forces were unable to protect lives in Darfur against militia atrocities as they lacked both the necessary mandate and resources to do so.

Regional analyst Adan Shabure said the Arab League was concerned that the arrival of U.N. forces in territories belonging to strategic members of the bloc, such as Sudan, would diminish its influence.

"It's the same thinking that the League has put forward regarding proposals for a peacekeeping force in Somalia. It wants Arab countries to provide the stabilization force there but the problem is that the process of doing so on its part has been very slow," Shabure said.

Another political analyst, Akasha Alsayeed Akasha, said the Arab League wanted to assert its influence in North African Muslim countries to justify its relevance in the broader Arab world.

The A.U. last month agreed in principle to support the transition of its Sudan mission, known as AMIS, to a U.N. force. The AMIS mandate was extended until September 30, when the U.N. mission would presumably begin.

Meanwhile both the A.U. and U.S. government are prodding NATO to take a more proactive role in Darfur.

NATO has already been assisting the A.U. forces, but only in a "capacity building" function.

The A.U. wants NATO to assist with planning and look at ways it may augment the African mission's effectiveness as it moves of the African mission as it transforms into a U.N. operation, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

A NATO spokeswoman said from Brussels the alliance would not send a force into Darfur but would offer logistical support or training to the A.U. or U.N. troops.

A decision on NATO's contribution would be made within "days or weeks," she said.

See Earlier Story:
Arab World Resists Tough Action Against Sudanese Government (Jul. 30, 2004)

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