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Annan Encouraged by Darfur Peace Prospects

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he is optimistic that Sudan's government will soon allow a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission to enforce a ceasefire in Darfur. VOA's correspondent at the U.N. Peter Heinlein reports.

Mr. Annan Friday gave the Security Council a cautiously optimistic report on a diplomatic mission he sent to Khartoum this week. His envoy, Amadou Ould Abdallah, carried a message to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir asking him to accept a ceasefire in Darfur, monitored by a hybrid U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force.

The secretary-general noted that he had been disappointed before in efforts to quell violence in Darfur. But he said he is hopeful President Bashir would respond positively to the proposal.

"The reports I have received from my envoy in Khartoum, Mr. Ould Abdallah, encourage me to think we may tomorrow receive a green light from President Bashir for a full ceasefire, a renewed effort to bring all parties into the political process, and deployment of the proposed African Union-United Nations hybrid force to protect the population," he said.

The Security Council last August authorized a force of 20,000 peacekeepers to take over the 7,000-strong African Union mission that has been unable to quell the violence in Darfur. The new force would be a hybrid U.N.-African Union mission, staffed largely by African troops. But President Bashir has refused to accept the force, arguing that U.N. involvement would compromise Sudanese sovereignty.

But in his final appearance before the Security Council as secretary-general, Mr. Annan said his final push for peace in Darfur might succeed.

"I do fervently hope that we are now at last close to rescuing the people of Darfur from their agony," he said.

The United States is also pressuring Sudan to accept the hybrid peacekeeping force. The Bush administration this week threatened unspecified action unless Khartoum takes steps to deploy the force by the end of the year.

President Bush's special envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios also went to Khartoum this month to deliver a message to President Bashir. Natsios told reporters afterward that, in general, he feels making threats is not useful. But as a measure of Washington's frustration with Khartoum, he said "we are going to take a different approach in January". He declined to be more specific, but said the U.S. plan has already been decided on.

War and famine in Darfur since early 2003 have left an estimated 200,000 dead. As many as two and a half million others have been forced to flee their homes.