A mediation visit to Sudan over the weekend by newly named US Special Envoy Andrew Natsios has so far failed to sway Khartoum to let UN forces reinforce a beleagured African Union (AU) mission in Sudan?s western Darfur region. Natsios? talks on Saturday with Sudan?s Foreign Minister Lam Akol follow by less than a week a Chinese contribution of one million US dollars to support the peacekeeping activities of the African Union in Darfur. Professor Lako Tongun, who teaches African and Third World Studies at California?s Pitzer College, tells the VOA English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser that Chinese backing is a major reason why Khartoum feels emboldened to reject western appeals to accept an international force to bolster the overburdened African Union contingent.
?The Foreign Minister of China has come out and said that Sudanese or UN troops can only come there if Sudan agrees to it, which is a way of hiding behind the Sudanese position -- which is to say, as long as Sudan isn?t going to agree to the coming of the UN to consent to it, then the UN troops are not going to come. So China in a way is supporting the position of the Sudanese government. I think this has been the tactic they have been playing. So I don?t think they are really going to send out the African troops,? he said.
Similarly, Professor Tongun says he believes last week?s Chinese contribution to maintain an AU contingent also shields Sudan from having to accept an international force, while Beijing simultaneously appears to cooperate in an international compromise to maintain some form of monitoring presence in the troubled Darfur region.
?Remember, the Chinese are getting forty percent of the Sudanese oil. So I see an attempt by the Chinese, of course, to influence what is going on in Darfur. In fact, I think that the idea of extending it from September until the end of December was partly also a pressure, I think, from the UN as well as from the US, because they did not want to have a situation where between September and the end of the year, or the time when UN troops are supposed to come in, they did not want a time when there was really nobody in Darfur. And so, this was a compromise starting among all the parties, who had interests in this issue,? he said.
Sudanese President Omar Hasan Al-Bashir is expected to face even greater demands later this week when West African leaders from Nigeria, Senegal, and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) visit Sudan?s capital for talks on the Darfur peacekeeping issue. Professor Tongun says that African pressure for an international force may introduce a new dimension to the bargaining process.
?They want to emphasize the point that it is very important for Bashir to allow the coming of the UN troops if Bashir wants the African Union troops to be in Darfur. I think Nigeria is emerging to be very important in this respect because (President Olusegun) Obasanjo has come out very clearly that what is happening in Darfur in fact is genocide in the making. I mean, this is the first time that an African leader is basically using the word genocide. And so, I think the pressure from the African countries will be very critical because Nigeria has threatened that it will withdraw about one-thousand Nigerian troops. That threat, I think is important because what might happen is that the African countries that have contributed to the African Union troops might do the same, and that might put pressure on the regime in Khartoum,? said Tongun.
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