BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The African Union asked NATO to support its forces in Sudan's Darfur region with transport, communications and other facilities on Tuesday, but stressed there was no role for the military alliance on the ground.
AU President Alpha Oumar Konare also met European Union officials to study how the EU could help end a civil war that has cost 180,000 lives through violence, hunger and disease.
"We asked for logistical support ... It is important we get the security situation under control very quickly," Konare said after meeting NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.
He told reporters NATO could provide airlift, accommodation and communications support to the AU as it looks to more than triple its force to 7,700 by late September. Any presence on the ground must remain "exclusively African troops", he stressed.
De Hoop Scheffer said NATO would seek agreement fast among its 26 members on what they could offer and pledged to respect AU leadership of efforts to end the conflict.
"The principle should be that the AU is principally responsible. There will be no imposition. NATO has no ambition to be the gendarme of the world," he said.
De Hoop Scheffer said he would attend a May 26 conference in Addis Ababa to coordinate offers of help in the Darfur region, a couple of months before the onset of the rainy season is feared to worsen the humanitarian situation.
The Darfur conflict broke out in February 2003 after rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government. Khartoum is accused of retaliating by arming local Arab militia, who burned down villages and slaughtered and raped civilians.
The Africa Union has insisted, along with the Sudanese government, that it does not need the presence of Western peacekeepers.
Konare also met officials from the 25-member EU, which has come forward with offers of support such as training for the AU's police mission in Sudan, as well as providing it with equipment and airlift.
The EU and NATO have largely overlapping membership and are at pains not to give the impression of competing for a role in the region. However some countries such as France have made it clear they prefer any action to be handled by the EU.
"If we do things properly there should not be any duplication," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after his meeting with Konare, adding the two would coordinate closely ahead of the May 26 meeting in Addis Ababa.