The African Union (AU) has agreed to transfer its peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region to the UN by the end of September or earlier.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Olu Adeniji, chairing a ministerial meeting of the AU's Peace and Security Council, said on Monday the AU's 7,300-strong force in Darfur could leave before the Sept. 30 deadline if the UN force was ready.
The special UN envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, told reporters in the Ethiopian capital: "It is now high time to take very concrete steps toward a stronger force."
Adeniji said the meeting agreed to extend the deadline for remaining rebel groups to sign the peace agreement signed by the government and the main rebel group to May 31.
Abdel Wahid Nur, leader of a splinter faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, and Khalil Ibrahim of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement have resisted international pressure to join the May 5 peace agreement.
The signing culminated two years of AU mediation and a last-minute push by the US, Britain and others. Its prospects, though, have been dimmed because of the failure to persuade all the rebels to sign, and by fighting that has continued in Darfur though the treaty called for a ceasefire to come into affect 72 hours after it was signed.
The two holdout groups demand additional commitments from the government on power-sharing, security arrangements and compensation for the victims of a conflict that has killed at least 180,000 people and forced more than 2 million to flee their homes.
If they miss the deadline, "failure to sign would attract measures by the African Union including consultations with the United Nations Security Council," Adeniji said.
* The African Union's 7,300 troops will leave Darfur by the end of September, or earlier if UN troops are ready.
* The AU also postponed a deadline for holdout rebel groups to sign a peace agreement to May 31.
* The groups could face sanctions if they fail to sign on.
* The UN's special envoy to Sudan called for more funds for humanitarian operations because some aid groups have had to cut back on feeding programs .
These measures would include some form of sanctions, he added.
AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare said the AU will push for a UN travel ban and asset freeze that would target those who may try to undermine the Darfur peace process and commit human rights violations in the vast, arid region.
Pronk called for continued efforts to press the holdouts to sign, saying "there could be no lasting peace in Darfur unless all the communities in Darfur are party to it."
Pronk also called for more funds for humanitarian operations. UN and other aid groups have had to severely cut feeding and other programs after international donors failed to respond to repeated pleas for funds, though moves have been made to address that since the peace treaty drew renewed attention to Darfur.
Konare pressed the Sudanese government to allow UN experts to travel to Darfur to study conditions on the ground to determine what would be needed by a UN peacekeeping force and what support African peacekeepers would require during the transition.
UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland, who just completed a mission to Sudan and Chad, said on Monday that it was "absolutely essential that the African Union forces get a more robust mandate. That is the only thing we will have on the ground in the next few months."