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African Union Predicts Enough Troops for Darfur, but Rebels Are Wary

The African Union says enough countries have pledged troops for a hybrid AU and United Nations peacekeeping force for Darfur, and it looks like most of the soldiers will come from African nations. Rebel groups say they are worried that not enough western nations are offering to take part. Nick Wadhams has more for VOA from Nairobi.

Six African nations have pledged troops for the proposed 26,000 strong peacekeeping force that would head to Sudan's troubled Darfur province in the coming months.

As in previous peacekeeping missions, most of the nations offering troops are poor or developing and get paid well by the U.N. for their contributions. Among them are Ethiopia, Egypt, and Nigeria, already among the leading troop contributors to U.N. forces around the world.

African Union chief, Alpha Oumar Konare, says there are enough pledges from African nations that planners will not need to turn to others for help.

That will please Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has repeatedly rejected the idea of Western troops on his soil. In fact, that was one of his initial objections to the United Nations taking control of the force.

Yet the news from the African Union has displeased some of the rebel groups. The Sudan Liberation Army, a rebel faction, is demanding some Western troops as opposed to Africans alone. Yahia Bolad, a spokesman for the SLA, argues that African countries are poorly equipped to handle the logistical challenges of the operation, and says some are in no position to be protectors of civilians in Darfur.

"We have our concerns about African countries. Some of them, they have their fingers in Darfur issue. And also the lack of human rights in African countries, lack of human rights, lack of democracy, lack of transparency. So we need troops that come from countries that respect human rights," he said.

If African nations cannot provide enough troops, it is expected that the remaining troops will come from the usual roster of contributors, which includes Guatemala, Malaysia and Pakistan.

African Union officials say the next step will be to raise the necessary funds for the peacekeeping force. They will come mostly from the major contributors to the U.N., including the United States and Britain. However, some peacekeeping missions have been hampered in the past by donor nations' tardiness in forwarding the funds.

A spokeswoman at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York, Carolyn Vadino, said the United States is still deciding what role to play in the Darfur force.

"Right now we're still ironing out those details. The likelihood of us providing troops is not strong. But we are looking into possibly providing logistical support especially if we are asked by the AU to do so. We are providing contributions under the U.N. Charter which I believe our contribution is about 25 to 26 percent of the overall budget," said Vadino.

The AU and the U.N. will hold an international conference on Darfur in September to discuss bringing a lasting peace to the region. Some 200,000 people have died and more than two million have been displaced as a result of four years of conflict in Darfur.

Human rights groups accuse militias backed by the Sudanese government, called Janjaweed, of murder and rape as part of efforts to crush the rebel groups. Sudan denies backing the militias and disputes U.N. estimates of the death toll.