China on Wednesday denounced criticism of its peacekeepers in Sudan's strife-torn Darfur, saying they were helpful to the peace process and should not be threatened.
A group of Darfur rebels last week demanded Beijing pull its peacekeepers out of the region just hours after a unit of Chinese army engineers flew in.
The Justice and Equality Movement said it would not allow the engineers on to land held by its forces and accused Beijing of stoking the crisis by supporting Khartoum. It also said it would not rule out attacking the Chinese.
"The Chinese side finds it hard to understand and cannot accept criticism of its peacekeeping actions in Darfur, and opposes open threats to the security of its peacekeepers," Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in said in a statement on the ministry's Web site (www.fmprc.gov.cn).
"The security of U.N. peacekeepers, including the Chinese, must be guaranteed," he added, saying the troops were mainly there to build and repair roads, bridges and wells.
"The Chinese side has made unremitting efforts towards pushing peace efforts in Sudan."
The rebel group, which attacked a Chinese-controlled oil installation last month in the central Sudanese region of Kordofan, said China was only interested in the country's resources.
China has advised Sudan to cooperate with UN efforts to resolve the crisis but remains its largest arms supplier, with sales increasing 25-fold between 2002 and 2005. Total trade rose 124 percent in the first half of this year compared to 2006.
International experts say the Darfur conflict between insurgent groups, the Sudanese government and state-backed militias has killed 200,000 people and driven more than 2.5 million from their homes. Khartoum says the international media has exaggerated the scale of the conflict.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, editing by Nick Macfie)