Sudan accepts deployment of U.N.-AU force

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NEW YORK — The Sudanese government yesterday accepted the deployment of a hybrid U.N.-African Union force for Darfur, saying its demands for greater African involvement had been met.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Sudanese President Omar Bashir said he would take the proposed force as long as the soldiers and commanders are all Africans.

“We have accepted the hybrid approach,” Sudanese Ambassador to the United Nations Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem said.

“Our concerns have been met because we have been assured of the African character of the force, with an African commander as well,” Mr. Abdelhaleem told The Washington Times.

He said his government also wanted the AU’s Peace and Security Council to play an oversight role in addition to the U.N. Security Council.

U.N. officials said the agreement is far from firm and that unresolved issues remain, including the nationalities of troops that would bolster an existing 7,000 AU peacekeeping force.

One U.N. official described the announcement as more of “a solid first step” than a breakthrough.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said that he and other ambassadors from nations on the U.N. Security Council were skeptical.

“If it is an unconditional acceptance, this would be positive step which we would welcome, but if it is only Africans involved and no non-Africans, that is putting conditions on the acceptance, and that would be unacceptable.”

An estimated 200,000 people have been killed in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, and 2.5 million have been forced from their homes since 2003, when the government and its militias began battling a rebel insurgency.

Negotiations with Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, to beef up the AU force with the resources and manpower of an international U.N. peacekeeping force have led to diplomatic frustration since the beginning.

Before the hybrid force can reach its full 23,000-member capacity, peacekeepers will have to build roads, figure out how to deliver water and overcome other logistical roadblocks.

U.N. officials said yesterday that they would try to find as many African peacekeepers as possible but that the continent’s soldiers are stretched thin on other missions.

“The next step for us is the force generation phase, and we are starting that now,” a peacekeeping official said. “We will definitely start with potential African troop contributing countries, and we hope we get what we need. But if we aren’t getting the numbers and capabilities we need … we’re not going to drag our feet because the most important thing is to deploy as soon as possible.”

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