Tue, Jun 19, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Sudan, UN reach deal on Darfur peacekeeping force

AP , KHARTOUM

The Sudanese government and a UN Security Council delegation said on Sunday that Khartoum has unconditionally accepted a joint UN and African peacekeeping force for Darfur.

The UN visit came after months of Sudanese dallying on the exact nature and mandate of a 19,000-strong African Union (AU) and UN hybrid force due to deploy in Darfur to end years of bloodshed.

"I can tell you that the [Sudanese] foreign minister told us in no uncertain terms that the government of Sudan accepted the hybrid operation without any conditionality," said Dumisani Kumalo, South Africa's ambassador to the UN Security Council.

"The president himself just confirmed the same thing to us," he told reporters in Khartoum after meeting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Sunday.

The UN and Western governments have been pressing Sudan for months to accept a plan for a joint force of UN and AU troops to replace the overwhelmed 7,000-strong AU force now in Darfur.

Sudan initially accepted the plan in November but then backtracked, before finally agreeing to the force last week. But al-Bashir is insisting that everyone in the peacekeeping force be African, a demand the UN and experts say will likely be impossible to meet.

Meanwhile, the British aid group Oxfam said on Sunday it was permanently closing down its operation in Darfur's largest refugee camp because of insecurity.

With some 130,000 refugees, the South Darfur camp of Gereida is among the largest in the world. The compounds of several aid groups in the camp were attacked in a raid last December during which a female French aid worker was raped and several others endured mock executions while some Sudanese aid workers were severely beaten.

Oxfam had scaled back operations in the camp after that attack.

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