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Sudan Renews Objection to UN Force in Darfur

Special Envoy Andrew Natsios met with Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol on Saturday.

A spokesman at the Foreign Ministry told VOA that Darfur was on the agenda, but said Sudan will not change its mind on the proposed U.N. force.

Relations between the United States and Sudan have frayed in recent weeks, following Sudan's refusal to allow a U.N. mission to replace the struggling African Union force currently in Darfur.

Critics charge that the under funded and under manned A.U. force is unable protect millions of civilians that have been subjected to attacks by government backed militias.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ali Sadiq said Sudan had welcomed Natsios' visit as a chance to improve U.S. - Sudanese relations, but he stressed that Sudan would not change its views on U.N. peacekeepers.

"It is good to exchange views but the position of the Sudan regarding UN Security Council Resolution 1706 remains unchanged," he said. "As long as there is diplomatic engagement, there are talks and dialogue, there is hope that we will come out with something."

Special Envoy Natsios also met on Saturday with former rebel commander Minni Minnawi, now a special advisor to Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir.

Minnawi's faction of the Sudan Liberation Army was the only rebel group to sign on to the Darfur Peace Agreement, which has failed to halt the violence in the region.

On Saturday fighting between janjaweed militias and Minnawi's forces erupted in the Darfuri capital city of El Fasher.

Under the terms of the Darfur Peace Agreement, Minnawi's men should not be carrying weapons in Darfur.

But Minnawi spokesman Mohammed Bashir said former rebels were merely attempting to protect civilians after Sudanese Armed Forces failed to intervene.

"The Janjaweed militia, they shot at some people and looted the market. The government there failed to control the situation. We have requested from the government if he fails to protect the people in the city we have to call our forces from outside to the city," said Bashir. "So far no reply."

Officials from the Sudanese Armed Forces were not available for comment.

The Reuters News Agency reported one person had been killed in the fighting and another injured.

Special Envoy Natsios has also requested to meet with Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir, but a U.S. Embassy spokesman told VOA that the meeting had not yet been confirmed.

The weeklong trip is expected to include visits to Darfur and Juba, but according to the U.S. embassy, Natsios has not yet received his travel permit to Darfur.

Sudan is accused of arming Arab militias in Darfur to crush a 2003 rebellion, using a savage campaign of rape and murder.

Tens of thousands of people have died and more than two million have been displaced by fighting in what the U.S. calls genocide.