Khartoum indicated yesterday it may be ready to accept UN peacekeepers taking over from African Union (AU) troops in Darfur following a peace deal between the government and the main rebel movement.
"The government will assess whether or not it will need the assistance of foreign troops and it may decide to ask for a UN deployment," foreign ministry spokesman Jamal Ibrahim said.
"But such a decision is the prerogative of the government ... What is sure is that no foreign forces will come to Sudan without the consent of the government."
Although the spokesman stopped short of saying that Khartoum would request a deployment of UN troops in place of the existing AU force, his statement marked a softening of the government's position.
Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir has spoken out strongly aagainst any UN deployment in Darfur, insisting that the peacekeeping mission should be carried out by Africans not outsiders.
"We are strongly opposed to any foreign intervention in Sudan and Darfur will be a graveyard for any foreign troops venturing to enter," the president said as recently as February in response to US-led calls for a UN force to take over.
But in recent days, a number of government officials have raised the possibility of a UN deployment within the framework of a peace accord with the rebels, prompting a strong welcome from Washington.
"We view this as a very encouraging sign, the first positive outcome from the Abuja peace agreement," US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said on Saturday.
Ahead of Friday's signing ceremony in Abuja, North Darfur Governor Osman Yussef Kibir had said the government might approve a UN force to oversee implementation of a peace deal.
"We believe that the deployment of UN forces in Darfur after a peace accord is concluded can serve as a guarantee to implementation of the accord," Kibir told reporters last week.
An audio tape of al-Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden broadcast by al-Jazeera television two weeks ago called for a holy war against the West in Darfur, in allusion to the US-led calls for a NATO-backed UN force.
"I call upon the mujahidin [holy warriors] and their supporters in Sudan and its surroundings -- including the Arabian Peninsula -- to prepare to lead a prolonged war against the crusader robbers in western Sudan," Bin Laden said in the recording, which US officials later said they regarded as genuine.