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Agreement Reached on Darfur Peacekeepers

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By LES NEUHAUS
The Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2006; 2:49 AM

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- African, Arab, European and U.N. leaders agreed in principle Thursday to a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force for Sudan's Darfur region.

Sudan, which has strongly opposed allowing U.N. troops in the country, did not give the plan its unreserved approval because officials needed to consult with their superiors, said the country's U.N. ambassador, Abdul Mahmoud Abdelhaleem.

The force could be as large as 27,000, including the existing 7,000-member AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, but the leaders did not lay out a timetable for the force to begin work partly because Sudan had some reservations.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the additional personnel could include as many as 17,000 soldiers and 3,000 police officers.

A timetable for the expanded force to begin work was not announced partly because Sudan retained some reservations, including the question of who would be in charge.

"The next step is for the U.N. and AU to call a meeting of the non-signatories (of the Darfur Peace Agreement) ... and the government of Sudan. It should take place in the next couple of weeks to resolve outstanding issues by the end of the year," Annan told reporters.

The U.N. Security Council voted in August to replace the African Union's 7,000 troops, an underpowered force, with 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers. But Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has so far refused to allow their deployment, saying they would be "neocolonialists."

The agreement was announced at a meeting in Ethiopia that brought together senior officials from the AU, the Arab League, the European Union, Sudan, the United States, China, Russia, Egypt, France and a half-dozen African countries.

"The United States welcomes the successful outcome of this historic meeting," Andrew Natsios, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, said in a statement.

The expansion of the existing AU force will take place in three phases, said Annan, who had wanted to try to stop the bloodshed in Darfur before he leaves office on Jan. 1.

An African Union Peace and Security Council meeting will be held in the Republic of Congo on Nov. 24 during which Sudan is expected to present its final views, Annan said.

The senior British government representative at the meeting, International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, called on the Sudanese government to "accept the clear view of all the others present."


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