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Sudan steps up pressure on Darfur Sudan steps up pressure on Darfur
(about 5 hours later)
Sudan has asked the African Union force attempting to keep the peace in Darfur to leave the country when its mandate ends at the end of September. Sudan has asked the African Union (AU) force attempting to keep the peace in Darfur to leave the country when its mandate ends at the end of September.
It has defied the United Nations Security Council and rejected a resolution passed on Thursday. The demand comes amid growing concern about a week-old offensive by Sudanese troops in the remote western region.
The resolution called for a 20,000-strong UN peacekeeping force to replace the African Union mission. A UN resolution passed last week seeking to replace the weak AU peacekeeping force with 17,000 UN troops was rejected by Khartoum.
Instead Khartoum has moved thousands of troops to Darfur, and stepped up the offensive against rebel groups. The UN has warned of a new "man-made catastrophe" in war-torn Darfur.
Those groups - the majority of Darfur's rebels - did not sign a peace agreement brokered in Nigeria in May. Hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions been made homeless in almost four years of fighting between pro-government militia groups and rebels demanding greater autonomy.
Military solution Correspondents see the unexpected announcement by Khartoum as a sign that in now plans to settle the three-year rebellion by military means.
For days now the UN has nervously monitored the planeloads of Sudanese troops arriving in North Darfur. The US brokered a peace accord in May, but it was signed by the government and only one of the three main rebel groups in Darfur.
It was clear that preparations were under way for a major offensive. There have been repeated warnings since then that the violence and displacement are continuing.
'Please leave'
AU soldiers are trying to police the region but they have a weak mandate, are under-resourced and number only 7,000 in an area the size of France.
Their current mandate finishes at the end of September and the government in Khartoum has now asked them to leave.
"It is not the decision of the Sudan. It is indicated before by the African Union itself. They said that by the end of September, they will not be able to continue with their assignment in Darfur," said Jamal Mohamed Ibrahim, spokesman for Sudan's foreign ministry.
"So we are just requesting now, since they can't finish and proceed with their assignment in Darfur, so it is up to them now to leave. And we're asking them, please leave."
Alex de Waal, a Harvard-based analyst who has been advising the AU on Darfur, describes that statement as "disingenuous". He told the BBC the AU mission "specifically requested that the mission be handed over to the United Nations".
UN resolution rejected
Last week, the UN passed a resolution authorising a larger UN force to replace the AU troops at the end of their mandate, but the resolution required Sudanese consent - and has been strongly rejected by Khartoum.
Planeloads of Sudanese soldiers are now arriving in DarfurPlaneloads of Sudanese soldiers are now arriving in Darfur
Now the purpose of the build-up has become clear: the African Union is being asked to leave. The days of international peacekeeping are to end. President Omar al-Bashir described the call for a UN force as "part of a comprehensive conspiracy for confiscating the country's sovereignty" in comments reported by the Sudanese news agency Suna on Sunday.
Khartoum is to settle the three-year-old rebellion on military terms. "Our decision is decisive rejection [of the UN resolution] then preparation for the confrontation [with the UN forces]," Suna quoted him as saying.
There now seems no way that a UN force can be deployed in Darfur. The idea of UN forces fighting its way into this vast, remote region is hardly plausible. The government has instead offered to send its own force of 10,000 soldiers to the region, but the UN and rights groups operating in the region have expressed alarm at this idea.
That will leave the huge camps housing two million displaced people extremely exposed. Fresh Sudanese soldiers have now begun arriving in the region, and rights groups, AU officials and Darfur's rebel groups report that on 28 August a new offensive began, with reports of attacks on rebel-held villages in Darfur.
Despite May's peace deal, Khartoum remains at war with the bulk of the rebel groups in Darfur - which recently came together in a new grouping called the National Redemption Front. Khartoum has denied reports of bombing raids on villages, saying it is merely conducting "administrative operations".
Aid nightmare No turning back
Should the conflict escalate, the huge humanitarian effort to keep the displaced fed, clothed and provided for could collapse. The BBC's Africa editor Martin Plaut says while there had been reports of troops pouring into Darfur, Khartoum's abrupt demand for the AU force to leave was unexpected.
This was the nightmare warned of by the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, Jan Egeland. Last week, the UN's humanitarian chief Jan Egeland warned that "a man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale" loomed within weeks in Darfur unless the UN Security Council acted immediately.
Less than a week ago he described the operation in Darfur as on the brink of collapse. But our Africa editor says sending a UN force to the region without Khartoum's consent would be a virtually impossible task - and there now remain few options left.
In a speech to the Security Council he warned that the work of the aid agencies could collapse because of a chronic lack of security. That prediction has just come a step closer to realisation.