Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Darfur deployment will be extended, says African Union


The African Union announced on Wednesday it will extend the deployment of a peacekeeping force in Darfur through Dec. 31, avoiding a showdown for now over Sudan's refusal to permit the UN to take over the mission and triple its size.

According to the agreement, reached on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly session, the UN will lend material and logistic support to the mission, which has been hobbled by equipment and cash shortfalls. The Arab League has also agreed to provide funding, said Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, head of the AU Peace and Security Council.

The deal was a compromise by the African Union, which had hoped to turn over control for peacekeeping in Darfur to the UN after Sept. 30, when the mission's current mandate expires. The UN Security Council passed a resolution last month that would expand the mission from 7,000 to more than 20,000 troops and give it new authority to protect civilians.

But Sudan's government vehemently opposes the introduction of UN forces in Darfur, where fighting between rebels and government-backed militias killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million since 2003. The UN calls it the world's worst humanitarian disaster and the US has labeled the attacks genocide.

Compaore said the African Union was still trying to win the consent of President Omar al-Bashir to a UN force, which is necessary for the Security Council resolution's demands to be carried out. He has claimed that western powers want to use a UN peacekeeping mission as a way to divide and weaken Sudan.

"We are working toward improving the relationship between the Sudan and the United Nations in this and to ensure peace in that area," Compaore said.

When al-Bashir left about halfway through the meeting on Wednesday, he withheld comment except to shout "No!" when a reporter asked if he would allow the UN to take control of the peacekeeping in Darfur.

The peacekeeping force is meant to help enforce an agreement signed in May by the government and major rebel groups in Darfur. Diplomats said the new UN force would mirror a UN mission monitoring a separate peace deal in the south. If the Security Council resolution were to take effect, the southern force would be joined with the effort in Darfur.

Also see story:
The last thing Darfur needs is the involvement of Western troops

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