Sudan's government is warning that it will not accept a joint United Nations and African Union force that has the mandate to use all means necessary - including force - to keep the peace in Darfur. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, a foreign ministry spokesman says he believes a compromise can be found even though the demand may be a deal-breaker for the U.N. Security Council.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq Ali says Sudan is in consultations about the mandate for a force of 26,000 troops sent to Darfur by the African Union and the United Nations.
France and Britain have drafted a resolution that would allow the peacekeepers to use all necessary means, including force, to protect itself as well as civilians in Darfur. Some 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million have fled since fighting began there in 2003.
Yet Sudan is bristling at this idea and wants a weaker mandate that would constrict the force's action. Sudan describes a stronger mandate as a violation of its sovereignty.
The foreign ministry spokesman, Ali Sadiq Ali, says peacekeepers should focus only on making sure a peace agreement from last year is kept, and nothing else.
"We believe that comp language is possible," Ali said. "We are engaging in consultations with the security council, we hope we will come to an agreement. The main mandate of the African Union mission in Darfur and the mandate of the hybrid force which is to come very soon to Sudan is to implement the peace agreement and to keep peace, not to enforce peace."
Last year, Sudan rejected a Security Council resolution that would have deployed 22,000 U.N. troops to Darfur with a robust mandate. The 7,000 African Union peacekeepers now in place are under-funded and have failed to stem the violence.
The hybrid force was supposed to be a compromise but could stall over the disagreements about how much strength the troops will be allowed to show.
The dispute comes as Sudan's president, Omar Al-Bashir, made his first trip through Darfur since the fighting broke out in 2003. His government is accused of having fueled the Darfur crisis by unleashing Arab horsemen who have terrorized villagers across the vast western province.
The Sudanese leader taunted the United States and Britain while he was there, saying that the two were exaggerating the region's problems to hide what he called their failure in Iraq.
Bashir said President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Gordon Brown would never announce a visit to Iraq before it was over. He dared them to appear before crowds of Iraqis, just like he was doing in Darfur.
In characteristically blunt terms, Bashir also lashed out at aid groups. He accused them of collecting money in the name of Darfur and spending it elsewhere. He also suggested that the groups were turning refugee camps into museums where human misery was put on display for the rest of the world to see.