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Sudanese Government Holds Talks on Darfur Peacekeepers

Sudananese officials are discussing the deployment of a peacekeeping force in the troubled Darfur region with United Nations and African Union representatives in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Katy Migiro reports for VOA that one of the main sticking points is whether the majority of troops in the new force will be from AU or U.N. forces.

The two-day meeting in the African Union headquarters is aimed at ironing out the details of a proposal made last November for a hybrid African Union - United Nations force for Darfur.

Sudan has agreed, in principle, to allow the United Nations to strengthen the AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, boosting its numbers from 7,000 to 23,000 troops.

The main issue being discussed in Addis Ababa is command and control of the joint force - an experiment which has never been tried before.

Sudanese Foreign Affairs Ministry Ali Sadiq Ali said he does not see there being any major problems because Khartoum has already agreed to the deployment of the hybrid force.

"People might recall that in November 2006 even then a meeting has taken place in the Ethiopian capital and the outline of this phase has been accepted by all, including the government of Sudan," he said.

But Mariam Jooma, an analyst of Sudanese affairs at the Institute of Strategic Studies in South Africa says she does not see any quick results coming out of this week's tripartite talks.

"I am not optimistic as to the progress of these talks," she said. "Simply because I think the disjuncture between the African Union and United Nations is far too significant at the moment for there to be a cohesive position taken by international community. The Sudanese authorities can easily take leverage from the lack of cohesion between AU and U.N."

The Sudanese government wants the U.N. role to be limited to logistics, with African troops and an African commander. Anything else, Khartoum says, would be like a western invasion of Sudan.

The United Nations has agreed to an African-force commander. But there are questions about how realistic Khartoum's desire for a majority African peacekeeping force is, given the limited number of AU troops available.

Jooma is also critical of what she describes as megaphone diplomacy - referring to the threats of sanctions being made in an effort to pressure Sudan to agree to U.N. proposals.

She is hopeful the involvement of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which has set up a Darfur task force, could help bridge the gap between the warring factions. The SPLM signed a peace deal with Khartoum in 2005, ending decades of war in south Sudan.

The conflict in Darfur, in western Sudan, broke out in 2003. Its origins are similar to the conflict in south Sudan, in which rebels took up arms in protest to the centralization of power in the hands of the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.