Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail says his government would not accept a proposal put forth this week by a high-ranking U.S. senator and a southern Sudanese rebel leader, to deploy peacekeeping troops in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
Foreign Minister Ismail said Thursday that he had no knowledge of the proposal, saying that VOA was the first to tell him about it.
"I've never heard about it," he said.
Late last week, the leader of the southern-based rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, John Garang, held talks with the highest-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, Bill Frist, during the senator's visit to southern Sudan.
According to SPLA spokesman Samson Kwaje in Nairobi, Mr. Garang proposed to Senator Frist the idea of forming a unique peacekeeping force for Darfur. Mr. Kwaje says the rebel leader suggested that a third of the force be made up of Sudanese government troops, another third by SPLA troops, and the rest from international forces operating under the auspices of the African Union.
"In concrete terms, we've offered to contribute 5,000 SPLA troops," he said. "The GOS [government of Sudan] should also contribute 5,000, and the African Union and the international community should contribute about 10,000."
Noting the government in Khartoum has already rejected the idea of having only foreign peacekeepers in western Sudan, Mr. Kwaje says the proposal would ensure that the Sudanese people themselves were contributing to efforts to secure Darfur for more than a million people displaced by the year-and-a-half-long conflict.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate majority leader told reporters in Nairobi he would like to see Mr. Garang's proposal implemented, if Khartoum failed to meet a 30-day deadline set by the United Nations Security Council to disarm and bring to justice the leaders of Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed.
Senator Frist and the U.S. Congress accuse the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of ordering the Janjaweed to commit genocide against black civilians in Darfur. Khartoum vehemently denies the charge.
"I would argue that if the government of Sudan does not act, there should be a joint protection force composed primarily of people of Sudan," said Senator Frist.
The senator further endorsed the proposal in an opinion letter in The Washington Post newspaper Wednesday, saying that having the SPLA contribute to a Darfur peacekeeping force would help move along a separate peace deal to end the south's 21-year-long war with Khartoum.
In June, the government and southern rebels signed an agreement that included a plan to integrate SPLA troops into the Sudanese military during a six-year transition period in the south. Senator Frist says he believes creating a security force for Darfur composed of SPLA and government troops would accelerate that plan.
The Sudanese foreign minister says whatever the details of the Darfur proposal may be, his government rejects it on principle.
"No, we would not even consider it," he said. "You cannot ask me to consider anything that comes from somebody who already decided that what is going on in Darfur in genocide."
Khartoum has also long accused John Garang and the SPLA of training and smuggling arms to the Sudan Liberation Army, one of two main rebel groups fighting the government in Darfur.
In April, Mr. Garang held his first-ever meeting with Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) leader Abdel Wahid Mohamed Ahmed Nour, in neighboring Eritrea, fueling Khartoum's suspicions that southern and western rebels, with the help of Eritrea and Asmara-based eastern rebels, are plotting to overthrow the government.
Mr. Garang denies his group is arming and training Darfur rebels. He says the SPLA is only trying to give moral and humanitarian support to the people of Darfur because they have long suffered the same neglect and marginalization from Khartoum as the southern Sudanese.