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AU force to stay in Sudan until peace deal

3/13/2006 5:53pm

ADDIS ABABA — The African Union (AU) has decided to extend its peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region for six months, giving it more time to try to mediate a peace deal and allow the United Nations (UN) to prepare to take over the job.

Sudan’s government, which fiercely opposes allowing UN troops into the country, agreed on Friday that UN peacekeepers could come to Darfur — but only after it reached a peace agreement with the region’s rebels.

The compromise will disappoint western leaders who wanted the UN to take over and reinforce beleaguered AU forces as soon as possible.

The 7000-strong AU force in the region has faced severe funding and logistical problems, limiting the success of its mission.

At least 180000 people have died and about 2-million have been displaced since the start of a 2003 revolt by rebels from Darfur’s ethnic African population.

The Arab-dominated Sudanese government is alleged to have responded to the revolt by unleashing Arab militias, who carried out atrocities against ethnic African villagers.

Speaking on behalf of the AU’s peace and security council, Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Seyoum Mesfin called on all sides in the conflict to reach a peace agreement by April 30.

The AU is mediating peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, where they have stalled recently because of a power struggle within the Darfur rebel movement.

Mesfin said that after the next mandate expired on September 30, the AU could hand over the peacekeeping mission to the UN.

“The council has decided to support, in principle, the transition of AMIS (the AU’s mission in Sudan) to the UN within the framework of the AU and the UN,” he said.

Tens of thousands of Sudanese marched through Khartoum on Wednesday to protest at the proposed UN takeover, and Sudan’s government says that Africans should handle the problem without outside intervention.

In Khartoum, Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Jamal Mohamed Ibrahim told state television that the agreement to extend the AU force’s mandate was a success for the government.

“We have achieved a great success by preserving the status of the African role in Darfur,” Ibrahim said.

He said the government was committed to efforts to reach a peace deal within the new timeframe. “We really hope and want to see a peace deal before the end of April, God willing.”

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking after his monthly lunch with the UN Security Council, said he was pleased with the AU decision and said he hoped that the peacekeeping force there would be strengthened before the UN took over.

“It is urgent that we find ways if possible of strengthening them as we build up to a transition to the UN,” Annan said.

Annan said the council had indicated it would invite Salim Ahmed Salim, the AU official mediating talks between the Sudanese government and rebel forces, to New York to talk about progress on the negotiations.

Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister Lam Akol said his government would support the transition to the UN after a peace deal has been reached with all the Darfur rebel groups.

“(Upon) the attainment of the peace agreement, we totally agree with this presentation,” Akol said, referring to a draft resolution that calls for the deployment of UN peacekeepers. Sapa-AP

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