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US Pushes AU to Accept UN Peacekeepers in Darfur


The United States is pushing the African Union to honor its decision to hand over Darfur peacekeeping duties to the United Nations. The world body is cutting its budget for assisting Darfur refugees due to security concerns.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton Thursday said the United States is applying strong diplomatic pressure on the African Union to allow what is called "rehatting" of its Darfur peacekeeping mission. A.U. leaders are meeting in Addis Ababa Friday to decide whether to stick to an earlier decision to hand over control of the 7,800 strong Darfur force to the United Nations, whose troops wear blue helmets.

Ambassador Bolton said U.S. and European diplomatic efforts are encountering fierce resistance from the Khartoum government. "Well, I think the hurdle that we've encountered is the aggressive opposition from the government of Sudan to a U.N. rehatting," he said.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday he was also in touch with African Union representatives to arrange a prompt handover of the Darfur force.

In the meantime, the U.N. refugee agency is cutting back its budget for operations in Darfur. Agency spokesmen say a steady deterioration of security in the region is preventing them from delivering aid to more than a million victims of the region's three-year civil war.

U.N. humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland said Thursday the delay in re-hatting the A.U. peacekeeping force was aggravating already critical conditions in Darfur.

"We humanitarian workers look with great anxiety and great frustration at the discussion that is taking a lot of time on how to provide the security that the civilian population in Darfur needs and do not have today. The only reason we have not had the massive loss of life predicted in Darfur is that you have had 14,000 courageous humanitarian workers there. These are now retreating because it is unsustainable. We are hanging in by our fingernails," he said.

The United States last year labelled the violence in Darfur as genocide, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told a Congressional committee Thursday that the genocide is continuing.

The U.N. refugee agency Thursday said there has been a recent surge in armed clashes, banditry, and attacks targeting civilians in Darfur. A statement said humanitarian convoys are also targeted, and access to a large part of West Darfur is restricted.

U.N. Humanitarian aid chief Egeland appealed for urgent international intervention before conditions worsen.

"It is slipping in many areas at the moment, and we could see a dramatic increase in the loss of life very soon. So our appeal is, agree on who will do security, and have a security force up and standing tomorrow and have parties agreed on political solution in Abuja. Force them to agree, because this is unsustainable as it is. Three million people are in the balance," he said.

In a statement issued Thursday, the African union said it is deeply dismayed by political infighting among Darfur rebels, which has bogged down peace talks with the government.

At least 180,000 people have died in Darfur since early 2003, when black ethnic groups launched a rebellion against the Arab-led government in Khartoum. Two million more have been displaced, many of them living in refugee camps in neighboring Chad.