U.N. might put troops on Darfur border

The Baltimore Sun

NAIROBI, KENYA -- Frustrated in its attempts to deploy peacekeeping troops to Sudan's troubled Darfur region, the United Nations is considering sending forces to neighboring Chad instead, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday.

"We are looking at the possibility of putting observers or some international presence on the border and working with the government of Chad," Annan said in Nairobi, where he was attending a summit on climate change.

Annan said such a presence would reduce cross-border incursions into Chad and protect the estimated 200,000 Darfur refugees who have fled violence in western Sudan and live in camps in Chad.

Today, Annan is to travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for another strategizing session on Darfur with African Union leaders and diplomats from the United States and other Western nations.

For much of the year, the government of Sudan has staunchly opposed a U.N. proposal to send about 20,000 troops to replace the 7,000 African Union troops stationed in Darfur.

The conflict between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government, which began in 2003, has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced about 2 million.

In the latest attempt to reach a compromise, U.N. officials are proposing a security force including African Union and U.N. troops.

"We have not given up on the idea of strengthening the force in Darfur," Annan said.

It remained unclear how Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir would react to the hybrid proposal or to the idea of installing a security force on the border. A U.N. assessment team is expected to arrive in Chad soon.

Analysts said the border security proposal will work only if the governments of Chad and Sudan approve. Otherwise, an international force along the border might exacerbate tense diplomatic relations between the two nations, which accuse each other of secretly backing the other's rebel movements.

"The U.N. cannot escape the issue of consent by the two countries," said Mohammed Guyo of the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi. If Chad approved the troops and Sudan did not, Sudanese soldiers and pro-government militias would probably view them as "hostile forces right across their border," he said.

Deployment of international troops in the region is "long overdue," Guyo said, because the Darfur conflict is spreading into Chad and the Central African Republic.

For months, combatants in the Darfur conflict have been crossing into Chad, and there is growing evidence that the ethnic warfare between Arab and non-Arab tribes in Darfur is poisoning the once-peaceful relations between Arab and non-Arab tribes in Chad.

More than 220 residents of Chad have been killed by in "inter-communal" violence, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported this week. Raids on 20 Chadian villages in the eastern part of the country since Nov. 4 have swelled the number of internally displaced people in Chad to 68,000, the group said.

African Union Chairman Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of Republic of Congo, expressed support for a U.N. mission in Chad.

"We agree with the idea of sending U.N. troops to ensure security on the borders of Chad and Central African Republic," he said in Paris after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, Reuters reported.

During a news conference in Nairobi, Annan also called for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the Independent Election Commission declared transitional President Joseph Kabila the winner of the nation's first democratic election in more than 40 years. He received 58 percent of the vote to 42 percent for challenger Jean Pierre Bemba, the panel said.

Bemba has filed five complaints alleging voting irregularities during the Oct. 29 balloting, but the commission and international observers have said that the election was free and orderly.

Edmund Sanders writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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