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NATO chief off to Darfur meeting, urges Sudan not to hinder AU mission

5/25/2005 2:29pm


ARE, Sweden, May 25, 2005 (AP) -- NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer flew to an international conference in Ethiopia Wednesday with an offer of logistical support for the African Union's bid to widen its peacekeeping mission in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

Making an early exit from a Euro-Asian security meeting in Sweden, he said it was important for the mission's success that Sudan does not hinder the African Union.

"What is important," he told reporters, "is that the government of Sudan will give the green light to the African Union" to more than double its current peacekeeping operation to about 7,000 troops.

He said NATO will offer airplanes to transport African peacekeeping troops, but military planners were still working out the details.

"We will do that in close consultation and harmony with the United Nations and, more specifically, the European Union," he said.

On Thursday, De Hoop Scheffer will attend an international conference in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to discuss the Darfur crisis further with EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and AU officials.

On Tuesday, the NATO allies said they stood ready to provide non-combat aid for the AU's beleaguered peacekeeping force in Darfur, approving "initial military options" for logistical NATO support. The EU has similarly agreed to offer assistance in the form of military transport, training and planning.

Last week, AU Commission President Alpha Oumar Konare asked both the EU and NATO for help.

De Hoop Scheffer stressed the AU -- not NATO -- would be running the Darfur operation.

The EU has already sent military advisers to help the AU mission and is spending A€92 million (US$116 million) to cover almost half the costs of the operation.

The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003 after rebels took up arms, complaining of discrimination by Sudan's Arab-dominated government. The government is accused of responding by backing a scorched-earth counterinsurgency by Arab militias.

War-induced hunger and disease has killed more than 180,000 people, according to U.N. estimates. At least 2 million have been made homeless by the conflict. There is no firm estimate of the number killed in fighting.

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