Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sudan accepts revised plan for joint Darfur force

Source: , June 12, 2007.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- Sudan on Tuesday accepted a revised plan for a joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping force of between 17,000 to 19,000 troops in Darfur, a senior African Union official said.

African Union, United Nations and Sudanese officials held a two-day meeting to discuss a force whose deployment would mark the final phase of a three-stage U.N. plan to bolster a poorly equipped and underfunded force of 7,000 AU peacekeepers, which has been unable to end four years of death and destruction in Darfur.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir agreed to the package in November, but stalled acceptance of the first two phases and has since backtracked on his approval. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday that al-Bashir told him he fully agreed to the proposed "hybrid" force but was adamant that all of the troops must come from Africa.

"In view of the explanation and clarification provided by the AU and the U.N. as contained in the presentation, the government of Sudan accepted the joint proposals on the hybrid operation," said Said Djinnit, the African Union's top peace and security official.

The decisions made Tuesday still have to be approved by the U.N. Security Council and the African Union's Peace and Security Council, Djinnit said.

He was reading a joint African Union, U.N. and Sudan statement after the two-day meeting.

Sudan has not changed its position on the hybrid force, said Mutrif Siddig, a senior Sudanese Foreign Affairs Ministry official who attended the meeting in the Ethiopia capital, Addis Ababa. The country has always demanded that the force be under African Union command and its members be Africans only, Siddig told journalists.

"It has been our stance from the beginning to have the hybrid operation. ... But we rejected the transfer of the African mission to the United Nations," Siddig said, referring to the overall command of the peacekeeping force.

"If African countries do not have enough troops or are not willing to contribute [to the force], in consultation with the Sudanese government, the United Nations and African Union, we are ready to recruit other countries according to our agreement," Siddig said.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, Security Council diplomats said they had been informed that Sudan's acceptance had conditions, including requiring all troops in the hybrid force to be Africans. That could make putting together a robust force difficult, if not impossible, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because there has been no public announcement.

"I'd like to see what the agreement is," said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. "If the agreement is unconditional support of the package, then we obviously would welcome that, because the letter we got yesterday was a little bit more of the same kind of pattern we have seen before of vagueness and lack of clarity."

"But if this is a clear, unconditional acceptance of the AU-U.N. concept it's welcome. Now we move to the implementation, which is another issue that has been there in the past, where there has been acceptance and then implementation has been a problem," Khalilzad said.

"The participants further agreed on the need for an immediate comprehensive cease-fire accompanied by an inclusive political process," Djinnit said, adding they called on countries to step up and quickly contribute troops and money toward the operation.

Djinnit said that there will be more discussions on the force's size and one factor will be whether there will be enough air transport to move the troops around Darfur.

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