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Decision on U.N., AU peacekeepers Monday

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol Ajawin said yesterday that his government would announce on Monday whether it will accept a United Nations and African Union plan to put 23,000 peacekeeping troops in Darfur.

After reviewing the proposal they received from U.N. officials two weeks ago, Sudanese delegates will meet with their U.N. and AU counterparts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to "agree on the final details," Mr. Lam Akol said.

Before the plan can be implemented, it must be approved by both the U.N. Security Council and the AU's Peace and Security Committee, the Associated Press reported yesterday. The two agencies are still trying to decide which one will pay for and lead the new force.

"It is now the duty of the U.N. to pass a resolution to fund this operation," Mr. Lam Akol told reporters in Washington during a video conference from his country yesterday.

The foreign minister's statements do not necessarily mean the troubled Darfur region is any closer to seeing a larger peacekeeping force. While Sudan accepts in principle the U.N. plan to put more troops in Darfur, it objects to the target number of 23,000. A force of 7,000 African Union troops currently in Darfur is charged with patrolling the entire region, which is about the size of France.

In spite of the ongoing negotiations, President Bush imposed unilateral sanctions on Sudan May 29, calling on Sudanese President Omar Bashir to "stop his obstruction, and to allow the peacekeepers in, and to end the campaign of violence that continues to target innocent men, women and children."

The sanctions block 30 companies connected with the Sudanese government from doing business with American banks and companies.

In recent days, other world powers including Britain have threatened Sudan with additional sanctions if it does not begin cooperating with efforts to place more troops in Darfur, where local militias supported by the central government have killed at least 200,000 persons and forced another 2 million to flee their homes in the past three years.

Mr. Lam Akol suggested that Mr. Bush's announcement of new sanctions, which was made just days after U.N. officials delivered the plan for more troops to the Sudanese, will only hinder negotiations. "The first casualty of these sanctions coming at the time they did is the peace process," he said.

Sudan's booming oil industry and its relationship with China have helped it dodge the adverse effects of many existing sanctions. China sells weapons to Sudan and is a major buyer of the 500,000 barrels of oil it produces daily.