Sudan's foreign minister says he and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw have agreed to support an increase in the number of African Union monitors in the troubled area of Darfur. The two also agreed on expanding the force sent to protect them.
On the second day of his two-day trip to Sudan, Mr. Straw toured a refugee camp in the war-torn area of Darfur and met with African Union monitors to assess the situation.
Late Monday, Foreign Secretary Straw and his Sudanese counterpart, Mustafa Osman Ismail, held talks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to discuss ways of ending the 18-month-old conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has displaced more than a million people.
The Sudanese government is under increasing international pressure to bring in an African Union peacekeeping force in addition to some 80 monitors and a 150 AU troops already in Darfur.
Mr. Ismail says both he and Mr. Straw agreed that more monitors and an expanded protection force should be deployed in Darfur.
But Mr. Ismail says Mr. Straw and he do not yet see a need for the deployment of a full-fledged peacekeeping force that would, among other things, protect civilians from attacks by a pro-government Arab militia called Janjaweed.
The Janjaweed marauders are accused of committing atrocities that some human rights groups and the U.S. Congress have called genocide.
"Jack Straw doesn't talk about forces to protect the civilians. He's talking about increasing the African monitors and, in principle, we have no problem. Just what we need to do is to agree on numbers and places, and so on," said Mr. Ismail.
Mr. Ismail says the Sudanese government needs time to disarm all armed groups in Darfur, including two main rebel groups, to ensure order before a peacekeeping force can be deployed.
The Sudanese foreign minister added that his government is doing its best to stop the violence.
"Settling the Darfur conflicts, we are doing it through three categories: the humanitarian, and there is a consensus that the government is doing its best; the political, and there is a consensus that now the government showed the sincerity to settle this problem politically; [and] security," he stated. "I told him we arrest[ed] more than 200 of the Janjaweed. They are in prison now. From our side, we are arresting them and we are putting them into court."
But the Associated Press reported that a British official who has been on patrol with the African Union mission says the Janjaweed still operate with impunity. The official is quoted as calling Darfur "bandit country" where the Janjaweed are doing what they want.