CAIRO: The main Sudanese opposition leader says the government is refusing to allow UN peacekeepers in Darfur because it knows the UN troops would help hunt down war crimes suspects for the International Criminal Court.
Former Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi said Khartoum s other reason for rejecting UN forces was that it still believes it can defeat the Darfur rebels militarily.
In an interview with The Associated Press while visiting Cairo, Al-Mahdi challenged the government s official line in the standoff with the UN Security Council, which is that it supports the May peace accord and that UN forces in Darfur would constitute a colonialist attempt to subjugate the country.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is still waiting for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to reply to a Jan. 24 letter that put forward specific proposals for the deployment of 22,000 UN and African Union troops to Darfur, the vast western region of Sudan where more than 200,000 have died and 2.5 million people have fled their homes in four years of fighting.
The Security Council initially ordered the deployment in August.
On Tuesday, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court accused a minister of state in Al-Bashir s Cabinet, Ahmed Mohammed Harun, of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, saying he paid and recruited militias responsible for murder, rape and torture.
The prosecutor also said the militia concerned, the janjaweed, was armed and financed by the government – a charge Khartoum has always denied.
The government rejected the prosecutor s remarks and reiterated it would not surrender anybody for trial in the ICC.
Al-Mahdi, whose Umma Party traditionally wins the plurality of votes in Sudan s elections, dismissed the sovereignty argument as inapplicable to gross abuse of human rights.
Atrocities have been committed and those who committed them have got to be brought to book, Al-Mahdi said.
Interviewed in his apartment in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City on Sunday, the man who was twice prime minister said his party, were it to return to government, would cooperate with the ICC and would allow the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur.
Al-Mahdi, whose government was toppled in a 1989 military coup led by Al-Bashir, is known to have influence in Darfur. In the 1986 polls – the last to be considered free and fair – Umma Party swept Darfur by a landslide.
He is also the great grandson of the Mahdi, the 19th century nationalist who ousted Egyptian colonial forces under the British general Charles Gordon. Darfur played a major role in that rebellion and many of its tribal elders today revere Sadiq because of his illustrious ancestor.
The government s rejection of the UN peace force is irrational and very insensitive to the humanitarian problem in Darfur, Al-Mahdi said.
Wearing a white woolen hat and the white robes favored by Sudanese men, Al-Mahdi said the government had reasons other than sovereignty for blocking the UN deployment.
The existence of UN troops will make it more possible to police (for) the ICC, he said. He added the janjaweed militia was actually the irregular troops of the government. Al-
Mahdi said the government was also rejecting the UN deployment because they want to keep the military option open.
The chief external spokesman of the Information Ministry in Khartoum denied Al-Mahdi s allegations. Bakri Mulah said the government is not resorting to a military solution and seeks to solve the Darfur problem through negotiations.
“The charge that the government fears UN forces would assist the ICC process is false, Mulah said. The government has nothing to hide, he said, adding it had allowed ICC inspectors to visit Sudan five times even though the country had not ratified the ICC charter.
Al-Mahdi said that for peace to come to Darfur, the Khartoum-appointed governors of the three states of Darfur – North, South and West – had to be replaced because they implemented the counterinsurgency policies that led to the atrocities.
People now believe the present governors have blood on their hands, he said.
He also said peace would require new negotiations, particularly with the groups that did not sign the May accord, and the deployment of UN troops.
Before any more negotiations, we have to get people to keep the peace in Darfur, and that is only possible through UN forces, Al-Mahdi said. The African Union peace mission was completely inadequate.
Earlier this month, Al-Bashir warned that if the world were to deploy UN peacekeepers without Sudan s consent, they would receive the lesson we taught you in the 19th century – a reference to the Mahdi s victory.
Asked what he thought of Al-Bashir exploiting his great grandfather, Al-Mahdi replied it was a gimmick.
There is no comparison between now and the 19th century, he said. The UN here is not contemplating conquering Sudan or conquering Darfur. It s there to help us with containing certain humanitarian problems.