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Peacekeeping Mission for Darfur Months Behind Schedule

The commander of the planned joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force for Darfur says preparations for the mission are running months behind schedule.

General Martin Luther Agwai said Saturday that the best case scenario is to have about 9,000 personnel on the ground in the troubled Sudanese region when the mandate for the force begins on January 1.

The joint force is expected to number 26,000 troops when it is fully deployed. It will replace 7,000 beleaguered A.U. peacekeepers.

General Agwai also expressed surprise that Western nations had not yet provided any of the 24 helicopters needed by the force.

The head of United Nations peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, recently accused Sudan of putting up obstacles to the peacekeeping force, such as demanding advance notice of troop movements and the ability to shut down the mission's communications.

The U.N. official said Sudan also has refused to sign off on the inclusion of some non-African units, including those from Thailand, Nepal and Nordic nations.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday he is disappointed over Sudan's failure to resolve key issues about the force.

Four years of conflict in the Darfur region have killed at least 200,000 people.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.