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AU says to seek $460 mln for expanded Darfur force

5/25/2005 5:14pm

By Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA, May 25 (Reuters) - The African Union (AU) is seeking $460 million to more than triple its peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region, a senior AU official said on Wednesday.
The 53-member pan-African body plans to make the request at a donor pledging conference on Sudan on Thursday.

The AU has deployed about 2,300 troops to monitor a shaky ceasefire in Darfur in Sudan's west, with international financial backing to pay for the mission.

Its role policing the civil war that has already cost 180,000 lives through violence, hunger and disease is seen as major test of the African body's peacekeeping abilities.

Said Djinnit, chairman of the AU's Peace and Security Council, said the AU may also consider bringing the force up to 12,000 by September, which would cost an additional $240 million. That decision would not be made until July 3, he said.

"We are confident that there is great enthusiasm among our international partners to support the AU Mission in Darfur both financially and logistically," he said, adding that the African nations which were asked to provide troops had agreed.

"We are confident of deploying more troops by July as long as their accommodation is prepared and airlift is provided on time," he said.

The additional troops were expected to be shipped out by late September.

The European Union and 26-nation NATO alliance this week agreed to provide air transport and training for the expanded AU force.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due to co-chair the donor meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with AU Commission President Alpha Oumar Konare.

Annan is expected to try to rally support for the AU's peacekeeping presence in Darfur and to revitalize peace talks between Darfur rebels and the government, AU sources said.

The AU-mediated talks, which stalled in December, are due to resume in Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday.

"I have been discussing it with the representatives of the rebel groups in Darfur. They have pledged to me their commitment to attend the Abuja talks," Djinnit said.

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.

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