Friday, August 25, 2006

Sudanese Islamists threaten to fight UN Darfur force

Reuters' Opheera McDoom report 25 Aug 2006 via ReliefWeb - excerpt:
Khartoum's many Islamic groups have delivered a clear message.

"We categorically refuse U.N. 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 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.

University professor and respected Islamist preacher Sadiq al-Hajj Abu Dafirah said any U.N. 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."

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 U.N. troops deploy.

While Sudan hosted bin Laden in the 1990s, relations soured and under U.S. and regional pressure Khartoum asked him to leave in 1996. In April this year, Bin Laden criticised Sudan for agreeing the U.S.-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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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 U.N. troops in Darfur, "Then we will fight them too."

No comments: