The 6,964-strong AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) cannot be sustained beyond March without more financial support, AU Commission chairman Alpha Omar Konare said in a report presented at a meeting of the pan-African Peace and Security Council on Thursday.
"The time has come to make a pronouncement on the future of the AU mission in Darfur and means to adapt it to the present challenges, including the hand-over to the United Nations at the appropriate time," Konare said.
The AU's main financial and logistical partners, he added, wanted to see a handover as early as February.
Konare noted the serious financial burden of supporting a mission with operating costs of US $17 million a month: "The funds received so far under the enhanced AMIS are almost exhausted. At present, no commitment has been made by partners for the funding of the mission beyond March 2006."
In a related development, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the international community to continue to finance the current AU mission.
He told reporters in New York on Thursday that any force trying to maintain peace in the region would need to be highly mobile.
"It is a large territory, and I think whichever force is there with this kind of mandate has to be mobile, has to have tactical air support, must have helicopters and ability to respond very quickly," Annan said.
The UN would also look at putting more troops on the ground, he said.
"We need to get the government to work with us in bringing in an expanded force with troops from outside Africa, because until recently it has maintained that it will only accept African troops, but I think we have gone beyond that now," Annan noted.
Officials said Sudan was opposed to the idea of the UN taking over AMIS.
"Sudan strongly rejects any attempt to cast any shadow of doubt on the role and ability of the African Union to solve the problem of Darfur," Lam Akol Ajawin, Sudanese foreign minister, told reporters at the AU meeting.
Konare insisted in his report that Khartoum take greater steps to protect the rights of civilians in the region. He highlighted an increase in ceasefire violations, with attacks being launched by rebel groups, government soldiers, and militia backed by government troops.
"Arbitrary arrest and detention, unlawful killings, beating, abductions and gender-based violence still continue across Darfur," he said. "Civilians are still being attacked in their communities and forcibly displaced from their homes."
Since May 2005, he added, there had been some 139 violations by the parties to the conflict and other armed militias.
Five African peacekeepers and two civilian staff were killed by unknown gunmen in the last four months. Banditry and attacks against aid workers had also increased.