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US Cites 'Positive Movement' on Darfur Peacekeeping


The United States said Thursday there has been some "positive movement" by Sudan in allowing deployment of advance elements of new U.N. and African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. However, the State Department says the international community is not yet prepared to set aside a threat of punitive action against the Khartoum government. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say that while the Sudanese government has sent mixed signals about its intentions, there has been "positive movement" on the ground toward meeting an international deadline for allowing deployment of initial elements of a new Darfur peacekeeping mission by year's end.

The U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, warned last week the United States and allies would take coercive measures against the Khartoum government unless it quickly allowed the movement to Darfur of advance elements of the United Nations and African Union force.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council released Wednesday that he had accepted the so-called "hybrid" peacekeeping force approved last month at an international meeting in Addis Ababa.

However, he appeared to be immediately contradicted by Sudan's U.N. ambassador who said no blue-helmeted United Nations personnel would be allowed in.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the U.S. understanding is that personnel for the first phase of the three-stage deployment are in the process of deploying to Darfur.

He termed this "positive movement" and said the United States takes the written word of President al-Bashir, over the Sudanese ambassador's comments, as that country's actual position.

"We wanted to see a commitment to the Addis [Ababa] agreement," he said."We wanted to see that commitment be more than rhetorical and be implemented. I think what we have seen now is a letter from President Bashir that aligns his government's policy with that agreement. And we are now, as I understand it, beginning to see some action in terms of phase one deployments."

The envisaged "hybrid" force would be more that three times as large as the current 7,000-member African Union observer mission in Darfur, which has been poorly funded and lacks the mobility to keep the peace in the vast western Sudanese region.

Ambassador Natsios refused to specify what steps might be taken against Sudan if it failed to accept the new force, but U.S. officials have said an Iraq-style "no-fly-zone" to protect Darfur civilians is one option.

Spokesman Casey said that while the year-end deadline applies only to Sudan's acceptance of the first elements of the new force and support equipment, its compliance with the broader peacekeeping plan will be continually reviewed after January 1.