Hu tells al-Bashir to give UN bigger role in Darfur

Chinese President Hu Jintao told Sudan’s leader he must give the United Nations a bigger role in trying to resolve the conflict in Darfur and also said China wanted to do more business with its key African ally, Sudan state media reported.

In what appeared to be China’s bluntest message to Sudan on the Darfur crisis, Hu urged President Omar al-Bashir in a face-to-face meeting on Friday to boost the UN’s “constructive role in realising peace in Darfur” along with the African Union, the official Sudan news agency Suna reported.

China buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil and is the largest investor in the country, giving it some leverage with al-Bashir’s government. Sudan has defied a UN Security Council call for the underpowered African Union mission of 7 000 troops in the western region of Darfur to be taken over by a UN operation of 22 000 peacekeepers.

China usually refuses to mix human rights issues with diplomacy, but Hu has come under international pressure to use his clout with Sudan to push it to accept UN peacekeepers in Darfur. More than 200 000 people have been killed in four years of fighting in the region between rebels and the army, backed by the notorious Janjaweed militia.

Human rights activists expressed concern ahead of Hu’s eight-country tour of Africa that China is overlooking abuses to gain access to Africa’s resources.
Africa has become an important source of oil and other natural resources to feed China’s rapid economic growth.

Sudanese officials briskly ushered journalists out of the room on Friday when Hu began voicing his expectations on Darfur to al-Bashir. Later, a Sudanese official told the Associated Press that Hu had told al-Bashir his government “should work more earnestly to get the rebels who did not sign the Darfur peace agreement to join the peace process”.

The government signed the peace agreement with one rebel group last May, but other rebels rejected the accord as inadequate and the conflict escalated.

This week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Sudan to accept a compromise deal by which a UN force would deploy in Darfur in a “hybrid mission” with African peacekeepers. Ban has also asked China’s UN ambassador for help in trying to persuade the Khartoum government.

United States Senator Barbara Boxer urged Sudan on Friday to accept a UN-led peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

“If the message the Chinese are bringing President Bashir is clear and is unequivocal that we need to move forward and they need to end this nightmare, it’s going to be very positive,” the California Democrat said of the meeting between the two leaders.

Boxer was speaking at UN headquarters in New York.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol insisted that Hu’s words on Darfur were not hostile.

Akol told reporters after the meeting that Sudan was willing to see the mixed UN and African Union force deployed in Darfur “as soon as funding and troops were secured”.

Diplomats in Khartoum said Hu’s position on Darfur could be linked to Chinese concerns about Sudan’s stability, as well as that of neighbouring Chad. The Chinese have recently improved relations with Chad, which also has important oil reserves and is fighting rebels in eastern provinces. Chad has accused Sudan of backing its rebels—a charge that Khartoum denies.

Sudan wanted to draw attention to the trade and investment side of its relationship with China.

After meeting him at the airport, al-Bashir took Hu to the Chinese-built Friendship Hall, where they signed several accords.

China undertook to build schools and a new presidential palace, reduced import tariffs on some Sudanese goods, granted a loan of 600-million yuan ($77,4-million) for infrastructure, and gave a grant of a $40-million.

The Suna agency said China also canceled debts of 470-million yuan ($60,7-million) and $19-million.

“China is more fair than the West in dealing with Sudan and its policy has helped boost both business and peace in the country,” said al-Bashir, who pointedly praised Beijing for not interfering politically in African countries.

The two later visited what they referred to as the finest Sino-Sudanese achievement: the Khartoum refinery where 100 000 barrels of oil—a fifth of Sudan’s production—are refined each day.

Jointly owned by Sudan and the Chinese National Petroleum Company, the refinery stands near the village of Aljaili about 70km north of Khartoum.

Hu’s trip to Cameroon, Liberia, Sudan, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Seychelles began Jan. 30 and runs until February 10. - Sapa-AP

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