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Deployment of UN Peacekeepers to Darfur Is Dragging

The arrival of United Nations peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur region is slow, according to an African Union official, who says at this rate, the deployment will take months to complete. He spoke to VOA as the African Union Peace and Security Council paid a visit to Darfur, where two-and-one-half million people remain homeless due to violence. Noel King reports for VOA from Khartoum.

More than one month after Sudan agreed to allow limited United Nations support to the struggling African Union, only 44 UN military staff have arrived in Darfur.

Sudan has so far agreed to the first and second phases of a proposed three-phase UN support plan. The first phase involves about 100 UN troops. Phase two includes 3,000 UN troops and support staff bolstered by heavy equipment.

Sudan has not yet agreed to phase three, a so-called UN/AU "hybrid" force which would more than double the size of the current mission.

A high-ranking AU military official told VOA it will take at least three months to deploy the 3,000 UN peacekeepers in Darfur as part of phase two.

He spoke on condition of anonymity.

African Union Deputy Force Commander Efram Rwangua said the United Nations, not the AU, is responsible for getting UN peacekeepers on the ground as part of the second phase, which is being referred to as "the heavy support package."

"The heavy support package is going to be implemented by the U.N. So I am sure they have started their planning. We have to plan with them, but U.N. is the main asset for the heavy support package.," he said.

Plans to deploy U.N. troops cannot move forward until troop contributing nations offer to send personnel.

Sudan said it will accept U.N. peacekeepers only on condition that the majority of troops come from African and Middle Eastern nations.

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when rebels attacked government positions complaining that remote Darfur remained undeveloped due to neglect by Sudan's Islamist regime in Khartoum.

Sudan is charged with arming Arab militias to crush the rebellion. The militias have waged a savage campaign of rape and murder targeting civilian villages.

The AU Peace and Security Council delegation will leave Sudan on Thursday, continuing on to Chad and the Central African Republic.

Violence from Darfur has spilled over into those neighboring countries, displacing tens of thousands across the region.