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Nigerian President Says Focus on Darfur is Key    - 2004-09-23

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is urging the international community to stay focused on the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region. Mr. Obasanjo's comments came in his speech to the 59th U.N. General Assembly debate. The Nigerian leader will also brief a special Security Council meeting on Darfur.

In his General Assembly address, President Obasanjo praised the United Nations for its commitment to resolving conflict and keeping peace in Africa. But he said more must be done to upgrade and enhance the eight U.N. peacekeeping operations on the continent.

"We have noted with appreciation the changes in the concept of peacekeeping," he said. "Notwithstanding, we believe some improvements are still necessary to enable a peace operation by the United Nations to address the social and economic challenges that inevitably confront countries emerging from conflict. These socio-economic issues invariably form an important part of the causes of the conflict in the first instance."

The Nigerian leader noted that U.N. peacekeepers had done much to stabilize tensions in Africa's Great Lakes region, and in West Africa, where four peacekeeping missions are operating.

In an interview with The Associated Press before his Assembly address, Mr. Obasanjo said the African Union (AU) could quickly mobilize up to 5,000 troops to help end the looting and killing in Sudan's Darfur region. But he said the troop deployment has been delayed because of a lack of funds.

He told the General Assembly, if the cash were available, the African Union could intervene in Darfur, as well as in other regional conflict zones.

"The first challenge of the AU Peace and Security Council has been the situation in the Darfur region of Western Sudan, which has aroused world attention by the reported carnage in that region," he noted. "I am closely following the developments with the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union and others. I call upon the international community to continue to lend us its support in resolving the Darfur conflict and its consequences."

At present, the African Union has 80 observers and a 300-strong protective force in Darfur, a region the size of France.

President Obasanjo, who is also the current president of the 53-nation African Union, will brief the Security Council Friday at a specially-called session on Darfur.

The Council last week threatened sanctions against Sudan's oil industry, unless the Khartoum government curbs the activities of Arab militias accused of genocide against black African villagers in Darfur.