KHARTOUM, April 30 (Reuters) - Sudan is ready to negotiate with Darfur rebels once they unite their leadership but should not be expected to sit idly by if government forces in the region are attacked, the junior foreign minister said on Monday.
Rebels and the African Union have accused Sudanese forces of bombing territories in northern Darfur in April while leaders of several rebel factions were preparing for unity talks.
Al-Samani Al-Wasyla blamed the fragmentations and divisions among the many rebels in Darfur, along with "negative messages" sent by western powers, notably the United States, for hindering the prospects of peace negotiations.
"Sudan has not closed the door in the face of any party that could convince the rebel groups (to join peace negotiations) ... because these groups are Sudanese. Peace cannot be achieved without them," he told Reuters in an interview.
"(But) there are countries ... like the United States that have been sending negative messages, thinking that pressure and threats of sanctions will make the Sudanese government accept anything," he said.
The prospect that Sudan will yield to western demands and allow a large United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur prompted some rebel groups to delay joining peace talks, hoping for more government compromises, Wasyla added.
Only one main rebel faction signed a May 2006 peace deal with the government. The agreement has failed to stop the violence in Darfur, where the United Nations says around 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million have fled their homes since the conflict flared in 2003.
Earlier on Sunday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol told the BBC the government was hoping to meet Darfur rebels for talks organised by the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan in the coming weeks.
He was not immediately available for comment.
The African Union, which has a force of some 5,000 troops in the volatile region, last week said government aircraft had bombed rebel territories in Amaray in north Darfur on April 19 and April 21 while several leaders were preparing for talks.
And the leader of one rebel faction said his forces brought down a government helicopter that attacked a site in northern Darfur ahead of similar unity talks early on Sunday.
The armed forces denied the attacks but said it had lost contact with a helicopter that was sent on a reconnaissance mission on Sunday after its pilot reported a technical failure.
Wasyla said he could not confirm or deny those raids, but added: "The government respects all ceasefire deals ... But is the government required to take attacks from groups that have not signed any agreement and not respond?"
The rebels say the attacks in April were unprovoked.
Sudan has so far rejected the deployment of a 20,000 U.N. force in Darfur but said it would accept as many African Union peacekeepers as required to stop the violence and called on the world body to fund these troops.
"Transforming the (African) force into a United Nations one rather has become the (west's) goal, rather than reaching a solution," Wasyla said, adding that Sudan will not bow to pressure to accept such a force.
"There are limits that could not be exceeded," he said.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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