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EU Officials Nervous Over Darfur Security

European Union officials say they are deeply concerned about the inability of the African Union to pay its peacekeeping troops in Darfur, western Sudan. An EU official tells VOA there are fears that the African Union may not be equipped to meet the challenges of a larger hybrid peacekeeping force, expected to be deployed in Darfur later in the year. Arjun Kohli has more from our East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

European parliament members in Strasbourg are discussing the crisis in Darfur, after a recent fact-finding mission to Sudan's war-torn western region revealed widespread problems in the AU peacekeeping mission, known by its acronym AMIS.

The lawmakers are especially focused on reports that the 7,000 AU soldiers have not received their salaries in more than four months, despite the monthly multi-million dollar European contribution to the peacekeeping mission.

A spokesman for the EU development and aid commission, Amadeu Altafaj, says that the European Union does not believe corruption is the reason for the delay. He says a lack of expertise in financial and administrative management, combined with inadequate resources, may be the problem.

"We have been carrying out audits in Addis, in Khartoum," Altafaj said. "We do not have evidence of any fraud, any misuse of the money. But on the other hand we have seen that there are difficulties, there are delays. There is a lack of capacity. There is a lack of expertise in the African Union, but AMIS is doing an important job on the ground. They are the only ones taking this responsibility on the ground, so what they need is full support of the international community in general."

Fighting in Darfur continues even though the largest rebel group, but not others, signed a peace agreement with the government in Khartoum last year.

More than 200,000 people have been killed by the violence since 2003 and an estimated 2.5 million people are homeless. An understaffed AU force has been unable to stop the fighting.

In June, the Sudanese government agreed to allow the United Nations to deploy a joint force with the African Union.

EU spokesman Altafaj says that for two months the European Union has used reserve funds to keep the AU operation afloat, because financial pledges from the international community have not been honored.

"There are problems. There are delays. But the main difficulty, in fact, is the chronic uncertainty of the financing of the operations of the African Union peace force," Altafaj said. "It is difficult to figure out how we can have a bigger force in place in the future if we are not even able to finance the 7,000 African forces on the ground. What the African Union needs is, of course, capacities, supports, transparency etc. But what they need the most is really financial backing from the whole international community."

People in Darfur are victims of all kinds of violence, including rape and murder. In late June, France, the United States, China, and 15 other nations agreed at a Paris conference to redouble efforts to end the bloodshed.