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AU official to visit Darfur ahead of mission expansion

5/31/2005 9:47pm

ADDIS ABABA, May 31 (AFP) -- African Union Peace and Security Council commissioner Saïd Djinnit is to visit Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region this week to assess the humanitarian and security situation there, the AU said Tuesday.
The two-day mission, to begin on Thursday, comes just a week after international donors pledged almost 292 million dollars to help the pan-African body expand its peace operation in Darfur.

"The visit will allow the AU to say loud and clear what the prevailing humanitarian and security situation is in Darfur," said Djinnit, who will meet AU and local officials and aid groups as Khartoum and the region's two main rebel groups prepare to resume peace talks in Nigeria.

"We are preparing a redeployment of our troops to Darfur and, ahead of the resumption of Abuja talks, it is important to re-assess the situation on the ground with all those involved," he said.

Last week, the AU said talks between the Sudan government and Darfur rebels that were suspended last December will resume on June 10.

That announcement was made at the donors conference in Addis Ababa during which foreign countries and multilateral groups pledged 291.6 million dollars (233 million euros) to assist the AU in boosting its Darfur mission.

The AU is set to increase its troops from the current 2,700 to 7,731 by the end of September, with the first new deployment expected to be begin in July.

"Everybody agrees that in areas where the AU are, the situation is better and that things are calming down ... we want to take advantage of this momentum," Djinnit said.

The Sudanese government and the AU last week said the security situation in Darfur had improved in the past months despite reports of continuing "banditry" and attacks against civilians and humanitarian supplies.

The AU mission is monitoring a shaky April 2004 ceasefire between Khartoum, government-backed militias and the two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Amid persistent violations of that truce, peace talks between the rebels and Khartoum were suspended in December but will resume on June 10 in the Nigerian capital Abuja. The JEM has already said it will go back to the negotiating table.

Between 180,000 and 300,000 people have been killed and at least 2.4 milion others displaced since the rebels and the pro-government militia begun fighting in February 2003.

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