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Joint AU, UN Peacekeeping Force Takes Over in Darfur

A new, joint force of the African Union and United Nations has taken over peacekeeping duties in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region from a smaller AU mission.

The transfer took place during a symbolic handover ceremony in North Darfur's capital of El Fasher Monday. At the ceremony, African troops took off their green AU berets and replaced them with the United Nations' blue berets.

The combined AU-UN force has about 9,000 troops and police, making it only slightly larger than the African force that was ineffective in stopping Darfur's rampant violence.

Plans call for the new force to eventually number 20,000 peacekeepers. Ethiopia, Egypt and other countries are set to send additional troops by mid-January.

Deployment of the new force has been delayed because of lack of proper military equipment, and Sudanese objections to non-African troops.

Darfur rebel groups began their uprising in early 2003, saying the government in Khartoum had neglected their region. Nearly five years of violence has claimed some 200-thousand lives and displaced more than 2.5 million people.

United Nations and African Union efforts to arrange peace talks have repeatedly failed, in part because of the splintering of rebel groups.

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