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US, Nigeria Discuss Early Deployment of UN-AU Force in Darfur

Top American and Nigerian officials met to discuss speeding up the deployment of the United Nations-African Union force in Sudan's troubled Darfur region. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that Nigeria is expected to provide more troops when the peace-keeping mission begins operations.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told reporters after a meeting with President Umaru Yar'Adua in Abuja that the United States remains committed to a rapid deployment of UN-AU hybrid force in the troubled western Sudanese region.

Negroponte, accompanied on the trip by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer, said it was necessary that an expanded force be deployed immediately in Darfur ahead of the UN-AU force.

An ill-equipped A.U. force of less than seven-thousand troops currently deployed in the region has failed to end the bloodshed that has left around 200,000 people dead since 2003.

Troops from Nigeria dominate the current AU force, and the West African nation which prides itself as a regional superpower, is expected to contribute more troops and police units.

Darfur rebels killed seven Nigerian peacekeepers at the end of September, prompting a national outcry for the recall of Nigerian troops from Darfur.

Peter Egom, a senior researcher at the Lagos-based Nigerian Institute for International Affairs, says Nigeria's commitment to resolving the Darfur crisis remains very strong.

"Nigeria has a big stake in that area because many of those being maltreated are of Nigerian origin. So Nigeria is not going to allow this thing to continue one way or the other," said Egom.

The A.U. force is to be replaced by a 26,000 joint UN-AU force, which is not expected to be fully deployed until some time next year.