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Rice Criticizes Sudanese Stalling on Darfur Peacekeeping

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday criticized stalling tactics by Sudan that are holding up deployment of a reinforced international peacekeeping presence in Darfur. Rice will discuss the issue in an Africa visit next week though she is likely to postpone a planned stop in Kinshasa. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice is making clear her growing impatience over delays in deploying the upgraded Darfur force, which was first authorized by the U.N. Security Council nearly a year ago.

The Khartoum government has given its nominal consent to the so-called hybrid force of U.N. and African Union troops on several occasions, yet has also set terms that U.S. officials say have effectively prevented the world body from raising the necessary troops.

At a Washington event Wednesday aimed at building ties between the African Union and the Organization of American States, the secretary of state said member countries of both regional bodies should press Sudan to finally allow the force to deploy.

"Too many have died, too many women have been raped, and too many children have been torn away from their families. The planned AU-U.N. peacekeeping force is essential to increasing security for the people of Darfur so they can begin returning to their homes. We must not let the government of Sudan continue this game of cat and mouse diplomacy, making promises, then going back on them," she said.

The envisaged hybrid force would be three times as large as the current African Union observer mission in Darfur, which is under-funded and lacks the logistical capacity to patrol the huge region.

The Sudanese government first accepted the hybrid force in principle at an Addis Ababa conference last November. But it has impeded logistical preparations and insisted it be predominately African, a condition that U.S. officials say cannot be met.

The U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, is in Khartoum this week meeting government officials and trying to convince them to agree fully to the peacekeeping plan.

Next week Natsios attends a conference on Darfur in Libya bringing together diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries, Darfur donor countries and Sudan's neighbors.

Secretary Rice will visit Africa next week as part of a fast-paced mission that also takes her to the Middle East and Europe.

She will attend a sub-Saharan Africa trade conference in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. But officials here say she will likely postpone what was to have been the first visit by a secretary of state to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the DRC, in a decade.

An official cited logistical reasons for putting off the Kinshasa stop, which was announced two days ago. He said Rice would like to visit the DRC as part of a longer Africa mission in the near future.