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US Wants Sudanese Action on Darfur Force by Year's End

The Bush administration served notice Wednesday it will take a "different approach" toward the Sudanese government if it does not take specific steps towards deploying a new international peacekeeping force in Darfur by the end of the year. Authorities in Khartoum are resisting a United Nations-backed plan for a so-called "hybrid" force of U.N. and African Union troops. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are not saying what the consequences of continued Sudanese inaction might be. But they say the Bush administration has already decided on a plan of implicitly-coercive action should the Khartoum government fail to take preliminary steps to deploy the hybrid force by the end of the year.

The comments followed a meeting here of senior officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who heard a report from the U.S. envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios on his just-completed mission to Khartoum and Brussels focusing on the Darfur issue.

In comments at the close of the meeting, Secretary Rice said Natsios was able to "move the ball forward" on Darfur by obtaining a U.N. Security Council statement Tuesday - that had been sought by the Khartoum government - formally endorsing the international agreement on the hybrid force that was reached in Addis Ababa in November.

Rice said it is now incumbent upon Sudanese authorities to respond by clearing away roadblocks that have stalled the initial steps of the Darfur deployment:

"That presidential statement was delivered in record time by the Security Council and is now in place," said Condoleezza Rice. "And we now expect the government in Khartoum to respond positively to that action in the U.N. Because it is extremely important that a robust security force, a robust peacekeeping force that can actually help end the violence and bring relief to the many innocent men women and children who are suffering in Sudan, that these steps be taken."

Under the "hybrid" plan approved in Addis Ababa, some 13,000 U.N. troops and logistics personnel would go to Darfur to reinforce the beleaguered 7,000 - member AU observer mission already there.

In a talk with reporters, Ambassador Natsios said efforts to raise the necessary troops have been "paralyzed" thus far by Sudan's refusal to admit any blue-hatted U.N. personnel.

He said by year's end, at a minimum, Sudan must allow some 60 U.N. logistics personnel who have been "marooned" in Khartoum for two months to go to Darfur to help lay groundwork for the hybrid force.

He said Sudanese authorities must also agree on the modalities for the remaining two phases of the deployment. He said compliance by Sudan is necessary if the United States is to continue in a process of quiet diplomacy on Darfur.

Natsios refused to discuss specific consequences for Sudan if it fails to act, but he said a U.S. plan of action has already been decided upon:

"I think making threats is not very useful," said Andrew Natsios. "But we are going to take a different approach to this in January. And there is a plan to do that but I am not going into details. In fact, at this point it's classified anyway, so I couldn't describe it to you."

Britain has in recent days suggested that western powers might impose an Iraq-style "no-fly zone" in Darfur if the new peace force was excluded. U.S. officials have called the flight restrictions an option but have not specifically endorsed the idea.

Natsios, who had a two-hour meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during his Khartoum visit, said his mission was not entirely unsuccessful.

He said officials there committed themselves to, as he put it, "try very hard" to see that the policy of excluding blue-hatted U.N. personnel is changed.

He also said the al-Bashir government agreed to his request to extend expedited visa procedures for Darfur humanitarian aid workers which were to have expired next month.

The U.S. envoy said he had asked for a year's extension of the visa preferences but was informed Tuesday the extension would be for two years.