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Sudanese President Reinforces Opposition to UN Peacekeepers in Darfur


Sudan's president has again said he will never allow a U.N. peacekeeping force into the volatile western region of Darfur. U.S. officials say they will continue to press for a U.N. force, but analysts say the Sudanese president's opposition is a major blow to the peace process.

Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir continued his campaign against the idea of allowing a U.N. peacekeeping force into Darfur.

The Associated Press news agency reports that Bashir accused what he called "Jewish organizations" of being behind the push to send the peacekeepers into the region.

He is quoted as making the comments at a news conference with visiting South African President Thabo Mbeki. President Bashir referred to the U.N. troops as "colonial forces" and said the peacekeepers were out to colonize Africa, beginning with Sudan.

Many U.N. Security Council members say the Sudanese government has failed to protect its own people during the conflict in Darfur, which has killed an estimated 180,000 people and left about two million homeless.

The United States and the European Union have been pushing for a U.N. peacekeeping mission to replace an existing African Union force, which has not had the resources to end the conflict.

The State Department said Tuesday that despite President al-Bashir's comments the international community was "not going to take no for an answer."

One analyst at the South African-based Institute for Security Studies, Mariam Jooma, expressed surprise at the Sudanese opposition to the plan.

"Actually, it has taken us aback as to the abrasiveness of the sentiments put forward by President Bashir," she said. "I think what we expected was that the NCP [National Congress Party] government would hold out, hold out and then eventually allow a U.N. force at the last minute."

Sudanese officials have argued replacing the 7,000-member African Union force with U.N. peacekeepers would comprise Sudan's sovereignty and be tantamount to an "invasion." The government said it would prefer to see more support given to the current African Union mission rather than bringing in U.N. troops.

Analyst Jooma says President Bashir's rejection of the force is deepening rifts within the rebel groups involved and may be hardening the positions of those groups and leaders that did not sign a peace deal.

She says the rejection may also cause the international community to turn away from Darfur.

"What is particularly worrying is that the momentum around the Darfur Peace Agreement has been of such a high level," she added. "What has happened now in this protraction of this conflict and, of course, the back-and-forth banter between government and the U.N. and the mixed signals really coming out of the government side, my fear is that international interest in the Darfur conflict begins to decline, and that's when we start seeing real impacts on the ground."

A joint U.N.-AU team is in Sudan to plan for a possible deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The Darfur conflict began three years ago when rebels took up arms to protest what they say is economic and political marginalization of their area by the Khartoum government.

Two main rebel groups, the Sudanese army, and an Arab militia known as "janjaweed" said to be backed by the Sudanese government are involved in the fighting.

The United States calls the Darfur conflict "genocide" and is one of the countries pushing for U.N. peacekeepers in the area.