KHARTOUM - China yesterday voiced deep concern about the safety of its peacekeepers in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region after rebel groups boycotting the peace process declared they were not immune from attack.
"Up to now there has been no incident, but we are deeply concerned about the matter," China's ambassador to Khartoum, Li Cheng Wen, said.
More than 100 Chinese engineers deployed to Darfur last week to build roads and bridges and dig wells to prepare for a 26000-strong African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force, but they were immediately told to go home by rebels.
In all, 315 Chinese engineers at the invitation of the UN will deploy by December to the region, where war has raged for nearly five years.
"Joining the peacekeeping action in the Darfur region reflects China's constructive role in solving Darfur's problem properly. This is good for Darfur peace and stability. It benefits reconstruction and improves people's life in Darfur.
"So it is very difficult for the Chinese side to understand and (we) cannot accept the criticism of joining the peacekeeping operation. Furthermore, we stand against the public threat to the Chinese peacekeepers' safety. I will contact certain organs in UNAmid (the joint African Union-United Nations force) to guarantee their safety and take all necessary measures to protect them," the ambassador said.
The military engineers carry small arms and are entitled to defend themselves if attacked, in line with UN resolutions.
"China hopes those military groups that have not signed the Darfur peace agreement will join the peace process as soon as possible and work hard so that peace and development can be realised," he added.
Darfur rebels have charged that as "allies" of the government in Khartoum, the Chinese are not immune from attack. China is the biggest buyer of Sudan's oil and sells weapons to the Khartoum government - blamed for fanning the violence in Darfur.
Since February 2003, more than 200000 people have died from the combined effects of war, famine and disease in the Darfur region, while 2,2million others have been left homeless. The Sudanese government says only 9000 people have died. - Sapa-AFP