Sudan: Senegal to quit Darfur force if no peace pact made

By Daniel Flynn

DAKAR, May 25 (Reuters) - Senegal will withdraw its peacekeeping troops from an African Union mission in Darfur unless there is a firm peace commitment from Sudan's government and its rebel foes, the foreign minister said on Friday.

The West African country, whose peacekeeping forces are widely respected, warned in April it could pull out its troops unless the overstretched AU force in Darfur was given U.N. support after five Senegalese peacekeepers were killed.

Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio said Senegal, which has more than 500 troops in the 7,000-strong AU contingent, was making a "global analysis" of the Darfur peacekeeping situation.

"The president of the republic has fixed a framework for the decisions expected from the government of Sudan and the rebels," Gadio told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

"If we consider that the Sudanese government and the rebel forces want to play with the international community to win time and not respect their commitments, then Senegal has no part in that crisis," Gadio said.

"We would withdraw our troops and continue to contribute towards the conclusion of a serious peace agreement," he said, adding that the timing of any decision would be at President Abdoulaye Wade's discretion.

Wade, who won re-election to a new five-year term in February, was in discussion with the African Union and the United Nations over the troubled peacekeeping mission.

Some 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed and more than 2 million made homeless in Darfur since 2003 in a war that pits Sudanese government forces and allied Janjaweed Arab militias against local rebels and their non-Arab supporters.

The conflict has spilled westwards across the border into Chad, and southwards into Central African Republic.

"There is a pretence of having peacekeeping forces on the ground, but these troops cannot keep the peace because there is none," said Gadio. "The Janjaweed militia is committing terrible atrocities and the rebels are creating their own militia to respond to the Janjaweed."

"Darfur is a silent tragedy," he said.

The Security Council was due to consider plans as early as Friday for a hybrid AU-UN force of more than 23,000 troops, police and other personnel to protect civilians, mandated to use force to deter further violence, diplomats said.

Sudan has not rejected the force but top officials have said the number of troops is too large, and the United Nations would do better to finance and augment the existing AU force.

Sudan had stalled for months in approving the first two phases of U.N. support for the African Union in a lead up to the hybrid force.

Gadio said the possible withdrawal of Senegalese peacekeeping troops would be limited to Darfur and would not affect a possible AU mission in Somalia. Nor would the decision be irrevocable, he added.

"If we withdraw our troops on Saturday and on Sunday the Sudanese government accepts a U.N. force or a hybrid AU-UN force, then Senegal would return the very next day," he said.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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