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Sudan Top Envoy Considers UN Forces in Darfur

The Sudan government's top negotiator to the recently concluded Darfur peace talks says a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force for the region is not out of the question. Sudan has previously taken a hard-line position, refusing to accept a U.N. force. But now that a peace deal has been signed by Khartoum and Darfur's largest rebel group, Sudan may no longer be able to ignore growing international pressure for a large-scale multi-national peacekeeping operation.

Head of the Sudan government delegation to the Abuja peace talks, Majzoub El Khalifa, says Sudan is considering allowing U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.

Sudan has long insisted it will not accept a U.N. force in the region, charging the presence of U.N. peacekeepers will undermine Sudan's sovereignty.

On Tuesday, the Security Council voted unanimously to give Sudan a one-week deadline to accept a U.N. military assessment team into Darfur to plan for U.N. troops to be deployed in the region.

Mazjoub El Khalifa says Secretary-General Kofi Annan will send a high-level negotiating team to Sudan within the next 48 hours to discuss the entry of the U.N. assessment team.

"We are going to see the result," he said. "As long as they open the window for negotiation, we are going to continue and go through the negotiation. We hope that the result will be a win-win approach, for the sake of the people of Sudan. We are part and parcel of the international community. If something [does] not go beyond our red lines, we are going to accept it shortly. The cardinal point is the dialogue and the discussion and the consultation with the government of Sudan. If it is on the line with the government of Sudan then everything will go smoothly. If it is against the will of Sudan then we are going to react accordingly."

Khalifa said Sudan wants input on the size and mandate of the proposed U.N. mission.

He stressed that Sudan wants a "re-hatting" of African Union troops already in Darfur, to retain the presence of African soldiers in the region.

"U.N. force is the African Force," he added. "They are just going to change the hats from green hats to blue hats. There will be no other forces in Darfur. They are the same forces, with the same mandate, with the same color and with the same guidance. The chief will also be from Africa."

The African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan has suffered from funding problems and a weak mandate. The AU mission has only 7,000 troops patrolling an area the size of France.

The three-year-old conflict began when Darfuri rebels attacked government positions, complaining that Darfur remained undeveloped because of marginalization by the central government. The Sudan government is accused of arming Arab militias to crush the rebellion, a charge it denies.