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EU Pledges Logistical Support for African Union in Darfur

European Union foreign and defense ministers have pledged to provide aircraft to transport thousands of African troops to Sudan's Darfur region to help end the conflict there. The ministers also called for an international inquiry into recent events in Uzbekistan and warned Iran to continue its freeze on nuclear activities.

Several EU member countries have offered logistical support and equipment to the African Union as it expands its peacekeeping mission in Darfur. The African Union says it will have 7,700 troops in the war-torn province by the end of September.

France and Spain have offered to supply transport aircraft, and Britain says it will give several hundred trucks to the African Union mission. Other EU countries, too, say they will contribute equipment and logistical support to the mission.

Luxembourg Defense Minister Luc Frieden, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, says the EU will coordinate its support operation with NATO and the United Nations and that the list of what the EU is prepared to offer should be completed by the end of a conference in Ethiopia this week that is seeking to raise funds for the Darfur mission.

"The African Union provided us with a list of items that they think would be most useful for conducting this operation, and it is in answer to that request that we are fulfilling what I would call a moral obligation towards Africa," he said.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says the EU and NATO are only playing a support role in an operation he insists will be run by the African Union. He says the EU and NATO will airlift troops from Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa to Darfur. "As soon as the troops from the countries that I mentioned are ready, we will be ready to transport them to the theater," he said.

Mr. Solana also called on Uzbekistan to reconsider its refusal to allow an independent investigation into this month's crackdown on protesters. "Things there are worse than we think they are. And, therefore, the better we know what is going on and the better we see how we can help, the better for everybody," he said.

EU foreign ministers later threatened to use pressure to persuade the Uzbek government to permit an international probe into the violence in the Central Asia but stopped short of threatening an aid cutoff to the country.

The ministers also urged Iran to stick to its pledge to suspend uranium enrichment and related activities that could help it develop nuclear weapons. On Wednesday, emissaries from Britain, France and Germany are scheduled to meet in Geneva with Iranian representatives to discuss Iran's nuclear program.

The ministers also voiced dismay at the exclusion of reformist candidates from next month's Iranian presidential election, saying it means the poll will not be truly democratic.