Sat, Nov 18, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Sudan agrees in principle to joint mission in Darfur

AP , ADDIS ABABA

Sudan, which has strongly opposed allowing UN troops in the country, agreed in principle to allow a joint African Union (AU) and UN peacekeeping force into its conflict-ridden region of Darfur.

But Sudanese representatives at a meeting with other African, Arab, European and UN leaders said on Thursday they needed to consult with their superiors in Khartoum before the government could give final approval to a revised peacekeeping plan.

The force could be as large as 27,000 troops, including the existing 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. But the leaders did not lay out a timetable for the force to begin work, partly because Sudan had reservations.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said additional personnel could include as many as 17,000 soldiers and 3,000 police officers.

"The next step is for the UN and AU to call a meeting of the non-signatories [of the Darfur Peace Agreement] ... and the government of Sudan. It should take place in the next couple of weeks to resolve outstanding issues by the end of the year," Annan said.

Enlarging the existing African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur will take place in three phases over an unspecified period of time, Annan told journalists.

Sudan has not given final approval to the plan because officials at Thursday's meeting needed to consult with their superiors in the Sudanese capital, said Abdul Mahmoud Abdelhaleem, Sudan's ambassador to the UN.

The UN Security Council voted in August to replace the African Union's 7,000 troops, an underpowered force, with 20,000 UN peacekeepers. But Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has so far refused to allow their deployment, saying they would be "neocolonialists."

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