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AU Discusses Extending Darfur Mission, Including UN Peacekeepers


The African Union Friday discussed extending the term of its peacekeeping mission in the volatile Darfur region of western Sudan until the end of this year. The head of the African Union says the extension would give time to hand over the Darfur mission to United Nations peacekeepers.

The United States and the European Union are among those urging Sudan to accept U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.

Sudan is opposed to the idea. Foreign Affairs Minister Lam Akol is reported to have told Friday's closed-door session of the A.U.'s Peace and Security Council that the African Union has no legal authority to transfer its mission to the U.N. or anyone else.

Mohammed El-Samani is Sudan's minister of state for foreign affairs. He says bringing in U.N. peacekeepers would be admitting that the African Union is a failure.

"We are not in a position as (a) member of the African Union to sign on a document, which clearly means we issue a death certificate for the African Union, because we have got no logic to send these African Union troops to anywhere, if it fails now, and if we commit that, it is a failure," he noted.

The African Union itself is under intense international pressure to turn over its peacekeeping mission to the United Nations, primarily because of the deteriorating security in the region and shortage of funds.

A.U. Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare is quoted as saying at the start of Friday's session that extending the term of the A.U. mission from March to December of this year would give the organization time to persuade Sudan to accept the U.N. peacekeepers.

For its part, the Sudanese government has said it would only accept U.N. peacekeepers, provided that a peace agreement is reached with rebel groups operating in Darfur.

The Darfur conflict, which began three years ago, pits two rebel groups against the government, each other, and a militia called Janjaweed, which many say is backed by the Sudanese government.

The conflict is estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people and displaced some two million.

The African Union has a presence of at least 7,000 troops that lack resources and funding. Its peacekeeping mandate expires at the end of March.

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