Da Mail & Guardian del 25/08/2006
Originale su http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=281904

Islamists threaten to fight UN Darfur force

di Opheera McDoom

Khartoum, Sudan - Sudanese Islamist leaders say they will take up arms against United Nations peacekeepers if they deploy to Darfur, and some have warned they will also fight the Khartoum government if it agrees to the force.

The threats conjure up a disturbing image of more bloodshed in the western Darfur region, where tens of thousands of people have been killed in more than three years of conflict, described as "genocide" by the United States.

Despite Sudan's objections, the United States and Britain have introduced a Security Council resolution that would deploy up to 17 000 troops and 3 000 police in Darfur, where an overstretched African Union force is monitoring a shaky truce.

Leaders of al-Qaeda have called on Muslims to fight any UN force in Darfur and while the diplomatic wrangling continues, Khartoum's many Islamic groups have delivered a clear message.

"We categorically refuse UN troops in Darfur," said Abdel Wahhab Mohamed Ali Ahmed, head of the Sudanese higher council for the coordination of Islamic groups, formed last year.

"And if they come we will fight them until they leave."

The council is composed of representatives from Sudan's main Islamist movements, including Ansar al-Sunna and the Hizb ut-Tahrir group, outlawed in neighbouring Egypt.

The UN force would take over from the 7 000 AU troops already in Darfur, who are short of cash and capabilities.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has said he will personally lead the resistance to a UN force, comparing it to a Western invasion to colonise Sudan.

This position has brought him closer to Islamist leaders, who in the past have differed with Bashir over how sharia, or Islamic law, is implemented in Sudan.

About 70% of Sudan's 36-million people are Muslim. One of the catalysts for a separate two decades-long civil war between the mostly Christian and animist south and the Islamist government in Khartoum was the imposition of sharia in 1983.

"The colonialists have united all the Muslim groups in Sudan ... and we support the government in this position," said Ahmed Malik, another member of the higher council.


CONVERT OR LEAVE

Most of Sudan's opposition parties support a UN force for Darfur and war victims have been pleading for intervention by the global body since the conflict began in 2003.

In February that year, non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government saying the region was being marginalised. The government mobilised Arab militias, known as Janjaweed who have been accused of murder, rape and looting.

Rebel factions have also been accused of banditry and atrocities against civilians.

Critics of Bashir's government say it fears UN troops may be used to arrest officials likely to be indicted by the International Criminal Court investigating alleged war crimes.

They point to the fact that under a January 2005 deal to end the separate north-south conflict Khartoum invited more than 10 000 UN troops to deploy in the country.

Islamist leaders say they oppose even those troops, calling the United Nations a front for US imperialism.

"We are an equal member of the African Union but in the United Nations one country, the United States, continuously uses its veto to force the world to follow its agenda," said Ahmed.

University professor and respected Islamist preacher Sadiq al-Hajj Abu Dafirah said any UN troops had to be given the choice to convert to Islam or leave the country.

"We will use dialogue but finally we would be obliged to fight them if they don't see the validity of our arguments," he said. He added talks could last years.

"A Muslim, when he is forced to fight, does so with sorrow."


SHADOW OF AL-QAEDA

Al-Qaeda's statements on Sudan raise the spectre of a wider conflict, that could draw in foreign fighters. Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri have said their movement would fight in Darfur if UN troops deploy.

While Sudan hosted Bin Laden in the 1990s, relations soured and under US and regional pressure Khartoum asked him to leave in 1996. In April this year, Bin Laden criticised Sudan for agreeing the US-backed peace deal for the north-south war.

Sudan's Islamists say they are not entirely in agreement with al-Qaeda's methods but Ahmed said they would happily take help from anyone to prevent UN troops deploying.

"We have camps here and we are training. We are ready."

Others, like preacher Abu Dafirah, were more circumspect.

"I'm sorry to say that yes [al-Qaeda] would find some support here," he said.

The United Nations is aware of the hostility.

It recently raised its security level in Khartoum, where hundreds of UN staff live and work, because of what officials called "credible threats to their security".

Islamist leaders said even Bashir would have cause to fear them if he gave in to international pressure on a Darfur force.

"Bashir cannot give in now, his people would not respect him, even his wife would not respect him if he did," said Malik.

Ahmed sai if Bashir's government agreed to allow UN troops in Darfur, "Then we will fight them too."

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