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Sudan to allow more peacekeepers in Darfur

Accord leaves questions on role of UN troops

UNITED NATIONS -- Sudan agreed to an expanded peacekeeping force in the Darfur region yesterday, according to a communique approved by negotiators from Sudan, the United Nations, and the African Union.

The detailed accord, reached in Ethiopia, allows for up to 25,000 AU and UN peacekeepers in Darfur, where a beleaguered mission of 7,000 African Union peacekeepers has been working to help stem the slaughter of civilians.

Khartoum's leadership, however, has reneged on previous agreements to accept a broader UN role in Darfur, and this deal leaves several crucial issues unresolved, most importantly whether the United Nations or African Union will command the force. The uncertainty over that issue is undercutting UN efforts to recruit international troops for the mission.

Nevertheless, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon welcomed the accord, while the United Nations' chief negotiator, Dimitri Titov, said the world body would increase preparations for a "lasting, daunting, dangerous operation," the French Press Agency reported.

Zalmay Khalilzad , the US ambassador to the United Nations, reacted more cautiously, suggesting that Sudan's agreement was conditioned on the demand the new force be composed of only African soldiers.

"If this is an unconditional acceptance, this would be a positive step that we would welcome, but, if it's conditional, as we hear, that there will be only African troops involved and no non-Africans, that's putting a condition on the acceptance and that would be unacceptable," Khalilzad said.

Sudan's UN ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem Mohamad, confirmed his government's approval of the 39-page plan, and he denied Sudan has imposed fresh conditions on the United Nations. "The Americans will continue to cast doubt on everything, because they are spoilers," he said. "The ball is absolutely now in the court of the UN."

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has long opposed a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, characterizing it as part of a neocolonial plot to rule Sudan. In March, Bashir backtracked on an agreement for an eventual force of nearly 20,000 troops and about 6,000 police, saying that only Sudanese security forces have the authority to protect Sudanese civilians. He relented a month later, but then launched an air attack against rebel leaders preparing for peace talks with the government.

The violence in Darfur dates to February 2003, when two rebel groups launched attacks on Sudanese police installations. The government recruited and armed local Arab militia, known as the janjaweed, and provided military support as they rampaged villages in rebel territory, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of more than 2.5 million.

The African Union sent peacekeepers to the region in 2004. After initial successes, the mission has been plagued by mounting casualties and worsening morale.