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African Union Criticized for Extending Darfur Mission

The African Union Peace and Security Council decided Friday to extend its peacekeeping mission in Darfur, rather than bow to international pressure to turn the mission over to the United Nations. The compromise followed stern warnings from the Sudanese government, that it would not tolerate U.N. involvement. Noel King reports for VOA from Khartoum reaction to the A.U. decision is mixed.

Friday's African Union decision to extend its peacekeeping mission in Darfur, has drawn criticism from some who say an extended A.U. presence is a waste of time, in which more lives will be lost.

The African Union mission has faced funding problems, and has only seven-thousand troops to patrol a remote area the size of France. After several A.U. troops were killed last year, critics charged that the mission did not have a strong enough mandate, and pushed for U.N. intervention.

UMMA Party founder Latif Joseph says the African Union has the will to do the job in Darfur, but does not have the ability.

"We preferred that the mission should be handed over to the U.N. because they are better equipped, better trained," Latif said. "They are experienced in peacekeeping mission. That would have been more beneficial to cut short the sufferings of the people. We want peace as soon as possible."

On Friday, Sudan offered to send a 10,000 troop force composed of Sudan Armed Forces and soldiers from the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army. Darfur's rebels say they will accept the former rebel SPLA, but insist they do not trust the Sudan Armed Forces.

Izzedin Abdul is a member of Darfur's largest rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army.

"If we trusted the Sudan forces, we should not have asked for international troops in Darfur. The being of SPLA there is a little bit better than government forces only," Izzedin said. "If the government forces want to commit any devilish kind of behavior like they used to, then I am sure the SPLA forces will not agree to that."

The escalation of violence in Darfur has caused the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Program to slash aid operations in the region.

Sudanese aid officials say they are exhausted by the continuation of violence, and disappointed that little progress has been made in ending the conflict.

Saad Ali Babikir is a director of the Sudan Social Development Organization, the largest Sudanese aid group working in Darfur. He told VOA the African Union is making an effort to protect displaced people known as I.D.P.s, but added that effort is not enough.

"For the time being, although they are not doing their job properly, they are better than nothing," Saad said. "But they are not doing their job properly. But their presence itself has an impact. For example, in some I.D.P. camps people spend the night near the camps of the A.U. The ideal situation is that they should stay in their I.D.P. camps where they have their shelter and the A.U. should protect them. But the AU is not doing that. But at least people have somewhere to spend the night near these forces."

All agree that the next six months will be critical for the African Union.

The three-year-old Darfur conflict began when rebels rose against the Khartoum government complaining of political and economic marginalization. The government armed Arab militias to crush the rebellion. An estimated 180,000 people have died and two million more have been displaced in the fighting.