KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Sunday urged the world to provide more equipment and other support for cash-strapped African forces monitoring a tentative truce in Sudan's violent Darfur region.
The African Union has a 7,000-strong force, mainly funded by Western donors, patrolling a region the size of France. The AU has said it may have to hand control to the United Nations because of a lack of adequate resources, a move Sudan opposes.
"We call upon the international community to offer adequate support to the African forces that have been relentlessly trying to reconstruct peace and supply them with the necessary means of mobility, transport, surveillance and provisions," Bashir told officials gathered in Khartoum before an African summit.
He said finding funds for the force was preferable to the African Union losing its peacekeeping role, which has been a key part of Africa's efforts to address its own problems.
"They constitute but meager expenses compared with other alternatives that could possibly strip the African Union from its historic role in conflict resolution in Africa and in security and peace installation in Africa," he said.
Many homeless in Darfur say the AU troops do not do enough to protect them against marauding militias, who they say are backed by the government. Sudan denies the charge.
Rights groups say part of the problem is that the government has hampered the supply of equipment in the past, which prevents the AU forces responding swiftly to truce violations.
The AU said Sudan held up the arrival of 105 Canadian armored personnel carriers last year. The Sudanese government says it has made every effort to support the AU peacekeeping operation.
The AU said earlier this month it may hand over the mission, which costs $17 million a month to maintain, because it only had funds committed by foreign partners until March.
Jan Pronk, the UN special envoy for Sudan, said the United Nations was ready to take control of the mission, even though its peacekeeping resources around the world were overstretched.
"The AU has done a good job. But if the African Union takes such a decision ... the United Nations will have to answer," Pronk told a news conference in Khartoum.
Rebels took up arms in 2003, accusing the government of neglecting the region. Tens of thousands have been killed and 2 million people made homeless. AU-sponsored peace talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja have made only halting progress.
"We will continue with our efforts to accomplish an historic comprehensive reconciliation that will put an end to violence in our country once and for all and give back the rights and heal the injuries," Bashir said.
Last year, Sudan signed a peace deal to end a more than 20-year-old war in the south, but the conflict in Darfur has rumbled on and there has also been sporadic fighting in Sudan's east.
The AU force includes personnel from South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Ghana.
(With additional reporting by Opheera McDoom)