By Simon Apiku
KHARTOUM, June 22 (Reuters) - China will send more than 200 troops to Sudan’s Darfur region to help a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force, its special envoy said in Khartoum on Friday.
"The government is planning to send 275 multipurpose, multifunction engineering troops to support the second phase of the Annan plan, the heavy support package," Liu Guijin told reporters in Khartoum, where he will meet President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Karti on Saturday.
Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan devised a plan that called for a 3-phase U.N. support package for the struggling African Union mission in Darfur.
Sudan accepted the first two phases of the plan, and earlier this month dropped its opposition to the third phase, which will involve the deployment of a joint U.N.-AU force of more than 20,000 troops and police.
The force will be under AU command and most troops will be African.
China said it encouraged, but did not put pressure on Sudan to agree to the plan. "We gave our advice to the Sudanese government as friends and brothers," Liu said.
"We are happy that they have taken our advice positively and they have shown their flexibility and they have shown their genuine political willingness to solve the Darfur issue."
The United Nations and African Union hailed the agreement as a breakthrough, but many observers remain sceptical, accusing Khartoum of signing deals and then wriggling out of them.
China, a major investor in Sudan’s oil sector, has blocked sending U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur without Khartoum’s consent.
Western countries have pushed China to use its economic leverage in Sudan and power in the United Nations to pressure Khartoum to end the conflict.
"We are not doing things like the Western countries. We are not putting pressure on the government," Liu said.
Fighting by government-linked militia and rebel groups in the western Darfur region has killed more than 200,000 people international experts say and driven about two million people from their homes. Sudan says only about 9,000 have died.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for a junior cabinet minister and militia leader accused of conspiring in war crimes in Sudan’s west.