Envoy: China may send peacekeepers to Darfur

Updated: 2007-06-22 08:29

CAIRO - China's special envoy on Darfur said Thursday his country will seriously consider sending troops for a peacekeeping mission in the war-torn Sudanese region and insisted Beijing is doing its best to help solve the conflict.

Liu Guijin lashed out at critics who accuse China of backing Sudan's government because of Chinese oil interests there.

"To link the Chinese corporations' involvement in the oil sector with loss of life in Darfur is baseless," Liu said. "That link is really ridiculous. The Olympics are a non-political event."

Liu defended Beijing's efforts to bring calm to Darfur. "Even the United States has to admit that we've played a positive role," he said. "We've tried our best."

He said China was instrumental in a diplomatic breakthrough earlier this month when Sudan's government finally agreed to let a strong force of U.N. and African Union peacekeepers deploy in Darfur.

Sudan has accepted this hybrid operation "without any reservation," Liu said, adding that Beijing had advised the Sudanese government to "be more flexible" regarding the force.

The joint mission is now due to deploy in coming months in an attempt to end fighting that killed more than 200,000 people and made 2.5 million refugees in Darfur since 2003, when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Sudan's government.

China has not received a formal request to send soldiers for the 19,000-strong peacekeeping mission, but is "open and sincere to making its contribution," Liu said.

"We will study the request, carefully and seriously," he said, adding that it was "a strong sign" that China already committed 275 military engineers to the U.N.'s current buildup in Darfur.

However, he warned, "any kind of peacekeeping mission will be useless" if it does not have the support of the Sudanese government.

He predicted Sudan would open a new round of peace talks with the Darfur rebel groups "some time in August." One faction signed a peace deal last year, but most groups continued to fight.

Beijing's heavy investment has it viewed as a power broker in African countries like Sudan, which exports two-thirds of its oil output to China. As one of the five U.N. Security Council permanent members with veto power, China has opposed harsh measures against Sudan over the Darfur violence.

Liu pointed out that India and Malaysia have invested in Sudan's oil industry and that a French firm has a drilling concession, without any of these countries being criticized. "Maybe some forces are not happy with China's presence" in Sudan, Liu said.

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