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AU Peacekeepers to Remain in Darfur


The African Union will keep its peacekeeping forces in Sudan's volatile Darfur region until at least the end of the year. The decision eases fears of a security vacuum in Darfur after the current AU mandate expires September 30.

The AU Peace and Security Council met Wednesday in New York, where many of its members are attending the U.N. General Assembly debate.

After a three-hour meeting, Burkina Faso's president, Blaise Campaore, said agreement had been reached to extend the mandate of the AU force in Darfur through December 31. The current mandate expires at the end of this month, and there were fears that a pullout of the force would leave civilians vulnerable to rampant violence in the region.

Campaore, who also serves as head of the Peace and Security Council, said the underfunded A.U. force would be backed by cash from African and Arab League sources, with logistical support from the United Nations.

"Yes, there [is] going to be funding and financing support from African countries, logistical and material support from the United Nations and the commitment from the Arab League to finance operation of the troops till December," said Blaise Campaore.

At a U.N. news conference a day earlier, Sudan's president, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, said he would not allow the United Nations to take over the Darfur peacekeeping mission. As he left Wednesday's meeting, Bashir shouted "no" to a reporter who asked if he had changed his mind.

But Peace and Security Council head Campaore said Sudan had indicated a willingness to work with the world body. Campaore said the AU force would be strengthened to meet the security challenge in the vast Darfur region.

"Definitely there is going to be the strengthening of the African troops, such as reinforcing of course the African troops," he said. "Also strengthening the relationship at the borders with the countries that are next to Sudan. Again, all this is an effort to strengthen the whole process."

The U.N. Security Council last month authorized a 22,000 - strong force of blue helmeted troops for Darfur. But they cannot be deployed without Sudan's consent.

President Bashir told reporters Tuesday he views the U.N. force as part of a Zionist attempt to carve up Sudan and gain access to its oil resources.

Human rights groups have said that three and a half years of war and deteriorating humanitarian conditions have left 200,000 people dead and millions more homeless.

President Bush Tuesday urged the United Nations to take action unless Sudan allows blue-helmeted peacekeepers into Darfur. He did not specify what that action would be.

But President Bashir Tuesday said conditions in Darfur are not nearly as bad as portrayed in Western media reports.