KHARTOUM, March 27 (Reuters) – U.N. forces can enter Darfur if their mandate is clearly defined, to relieve underfunded African troops monitoring a shaky truce in the western region, Sudan’s first vice president said on Monday.
Sudan is under intense international pressure to allow U.N. troops to take over from a 7,000-strong African Union force struggling to stop the violence which Washington calls genocide.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has so far rejected any such transition to the United Nations. He has said the government would only consider it if a peace deal is reached with Darfur rebels at negotiations in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
However, First Vice President Salva Kiir told Reuters that U.N. forces could enter Darfur even before such an agreement was signed, provided they had a clear mandate so that they did not become entangled in the conflict.
“There is really nothing so serious about the coming of the U.N. to Darfur except the misunderstanding of their coming in by the public that (it) … may be pre-empting the negotiations,” Kiir said in an interview.
“The mission is the first thing to be defined because if you bring in U.N. forces you must give them a detailed mission.”
Kiir, a former southern rebel, was sworn in last year as first vice president of a new coalition government as part of a peace deal signed in 2005 to end more than two decades of north-south civil war.
That deal did not cover the separate war in Darfur.
Tens of thousands have been killed in Darfur since early 2003 and more than 2 million driven from their homes by a campaign of rape, killing and looting by mostly Arab militias, which the United Nations says the government armed.
Khartoum denies the charge but the International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating alleged war crimes there.
Opposition politicians say the northern government is scared U.N. forces in Darfur may be used to arrest anyone indicted by the court.
The ICC visited Sudan earlier this month to discuss the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group which has bases in lawless southern Sudan.
After years of fighting, the area has proved a haven for the LRA, which has recently begun attacking international aid workers moving in to develop the war-ravaged south.
The ICC issued its first arrest warrants for five LRA leaders last year, prompting the feared group to break into small groups causing havoc against Sudanese civilians.
Kiir warned the LRA to leave southern Sudan or face attack.
He heads the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), which fought against the Islamist government in Africa’s longest civil war over issues including religious freedom, oil, ethnicity and ideology.
“The … LRA is a security threat to the civil population of southern Sudan,” he said. “Should they refuse to leave southern Sudan and carry on their operations, the SPLA will fight.”
Kiir would not say if the SPLA, which has formed an autonomous southern government, would turn over LRA prisoners to the ICC if it caught them, but said it would be willing to mediate talks with the Ugandan government if the rebels wished.
He also said he expected donors to give $1.7 billion in aid in 2006 to develop infrastructure in the south.