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UN Secretary-General to Visit Darfur

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is set to travel to Sudan, including the volatile Darfur region, in the coming weeks. From VOA's United Nations bureau, Suzanne Presto looks at recent developments in the U.N.'s role in Darfur.

U.N. Spokeswoman Michele Montas confirms that the secretary general will travel to the Darfur region when he visits Sudan within the next few weeks. She provided few details as she says the visit is still in the planning stages. "There will be a trip. We don't have a date yet, nor do we have specific stopovers," she said.

It will be Mr. Ban's first trip to the region as secretary-general. His predecessor, Kofi Annan, visited Sudan as the U.N. chief two years ago.

U.N. officials are also preparing for another U.N. presence in Sudan, the joint United Nations, African Union peacekeeping force that is set to be in place by the end of this year. The U.N. troops would augment the 7,000 - member African Union force already in Darfur.

The Security Council approved the mission two weeks ago. It will become the world's largest peacekeeping mission, comprised of more than 19,000 military personnel and about 6,400 police officers.

They will attempt to provide security after four years of bloody conflict that have left more than 200,000 people dead and another two million displaced.

Last week, the U.N.'s assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, Jane Holl Lute, said she was pleased that African nations had pledged enough troops to create a predominantly African force.

But it is not yet clear if it will be an entirely African force. U.N. spokeswoman Montas says the composition of the mission is still being determined. She adds that officials have heard reports that some rebel factions in Darfur are demanding that the U.N.-A.U. force include western troops. "All this is being considered. This is part of the discussions taking place," she said.

Montas emphasized that while the troop make-up is not yet set in stone (final), non-African countries will definitely play some role in the peacekeeping mission.