updated 11/18/2007 8:35:33 PM ET 2007-11-19T01:35:33

Sudan's government does not want war but will be ready for one if forced to fight, President Omar al-Bashir warned Saturday during a show of support for a paramilitary force that once battled southern rebels.

Al-Bashir spoke at a rally to mark the 18th anniversary of the Popular Defense Forces, a militia he created to fight southern rebels in Sudan's 22-year civil war.

Southerners have accused the government of violating the peace treaty that ended the north-south conflict in 2005, raising concerns of a return to war. Cabinet ministers from the south walked out of the national government last month.

"We will not seek war, but if imposed on us we are ready," al-Bashir told a rally in the town of Medani, some 200 miles south of Khartoum, the capital.

He was honoring a militia that observers say has since been unleashed in a separate conflict in Western Darfur. Like in the south, ethnic Africans in Darfur took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government, accusing it of discrimination.

More than 200,000 people have died since fighting started in 2003, and Arab militia fighters have been accused of widespread atrocities against African villagers.

Leader refuses help from Nordic nations
The U.N. and African Union have been trying for more than a year to send a 26,000-member joint peacekeeping force to replace a smaller, beleaguered AU mission now in Darfur.

But al-Bashir suggested Saturday he would not accept contributions from three Nordic countries — Denmark, Sweden and Norway — that have offered to send an engineering unit. U.N. officials have called the unit key to the success for the peacekeeping mission, which is supposed to takeover by the end of the year.

Al-Bashir suggested that countries where newspapers carried caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad would not be allowed to contribute to the force. Among the countries offering contributions is Denmark, where a newspaper first published the drawings in 2005. Newspapers across Europe later reprinted them, provoking widespread protests across the Muslim world.

"Anyone who spoke blasphemously about the Prophet will not set a foot on Sudanese soil," he said.

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