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Blair Wants Stronger AU Intervention in Darfur


British Prime Minister Tony Blair says the world community needs to support a bigger African Union intervention in Sudan's Darfur region. Mr. Blair also discussed Syria and the threat of Islamic terrorism in Britain during his monthly news conference.

Prime Minister Blair was asked if the world is not capable, or is unwilling, to intervene in Darfur, given the latest U.N. assessments of massive food shortages and continued harassment of relief workers.

"Well, the world is trying to help, but the help that is most needed is the intervention of the African Union force," he said. "And that's the key requirement, and in fact the Commission for Africa report, when it comes out, I think you will see that there is an entire chapter devoted to how we build the capability for Africa, because that's the only answer in Darfur. The only answer is to make sure you have sufficiently capable troops to go and police the situation whilst you negotiate the settlement. And that's what we are trying to do."

The Commission for Africa is a Blair initiative to create an international action plan to tackle poverty, disease and conflict in continent, and the report is due on March 11.

The African Union has sent about 1400 peacekeepers to Darfur but they have been ineffective in curbing the violence in the region, which is the size of France.

On another issue, Mr. Blair was asked what action should be taken against Syria, given suspicions of Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri. The prime minister says the facts are still in doubt, but he warns Syria about involvement in terrorism.

"You hear these reports. I don't know of anything, and I've got nothing to give you by way of fact on it because I don't have the facts on it. All I can say is it was a terrible act of terrorism, a terrible assassination, a tragedy for Lebanon, and Syria should take very seriously their responsibilities to curb terrorism of all sorts," said Mr. Blair.

Syria has denied involvement in the Hariri assassination, but the killing has increased pressure on Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Prime Minister Blair also defended a controversial new anti-terrorism law that would give his home secretary sweeping powers to place suspected terrorists under indefinite house arrest with the approval of a judge.

Critics say the law tramples civil liberties, but Mr. Blair says it is needed to counter Islamic terrorist attacks like those that occurred in the United States in 2001, and in Spain last year.

"We do in fact face a terrorist threat. The security services and the police do believe we need these extra powers. I'm not being arrogant, or railroading things through, I'm just trying to protect the security of our country," he said. "If there were to be a terrorist act, people would be asking me why I hadn't protected the civil liberties of our citizens, because they have a right to life, which is also a human right."

Just before Mr. Blair spoke, the parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights said there is no justification for the proposed anti-terrorism law, and that its violates constitutional norms.