Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Blair asks advisers to look at sending troops to Sudan

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has asked officials to draw up plans for possible British military intervention in Sudan, where more than a million refugees are at risk from famine and disease.

Despite a heavy commitment of British armed forces in Iraq and other troublespots, Blair has had discussions with advisers for on-the-ground involvement of troops.

Blair is still hoping that diplomatic and political pressure on the Khartoum government will resolve the crisis without the need for military involvement.

But with conditions in hundreds of camps sharply deteriorating this week with the onset of torrential rain, governments across Europe as well as the US are facing calls for action to prevent a repetition of the Rwanda genocide 10 years ago that claimed a million lives. A UK government official involved in the discussions said Blair was being given regular updates on the condition of the refugees in the Darfur region.

"The prime minister has asked to look at all options that will save lives and not to rule out the military services," the official said.

Three options for military action have been put forward in London:

First, UK servicemen could help with the delivery of aid if the humanitarian agencies can no longer cope. At present, the Belgian air force is helping to fly in aid. The UK is using civilian planes because they are cheaper.

Second, the UK could offer logistical support for an African Union force of 60 monitors and a 300-strong protection force being deployed in the Sudan. The African Union force is short of equipment, including helicopters.

Third, British troops could protect refugee camps being harassed by marauding militias. This creation of safe zones would be the most risky of the options and would require the agreement of the Khartoum government, which would be reluctant to give it.

The fact that Blair is prepared to consider military options, even limited ones, so soon after the Iraq war may create controversy, not least among critics who already regard him as too interventionist. It would be his sixth military venture since becoming prime minister in 1997.

Asked about Sudan in the UK House of Commons on Wednesday, Blair did not mention the military option. But he said he "ruled absolutely nothing out."

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