International funding of the African Union?s monitoring force in Darfur, western Sudan, is to expire in March unless the United States and other donor countries restore appropriations. Deliberations at this week?s AU summit in Khartoum may help determine what form and level of protection a revitalized operation may take if the mandate expires.

The United States reduced the share of its financial commitment when Congress took fifty million dollars from an AU force appropriation late last year. The Sudanese-born chief of the Africa Program at the US branch of the International Crisis Group, Suleiman Baldo, says a restoration of funds is urgently needed.

He tells English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser, ?The cuts -- as argued by Secretary Rice and others in the (Bush) administration -- really need to be reinstated. Why? Because the US has been in a position of leadership in denouncing what has been happening in Darfur as genocide. It has been up front really contributing to the relief of the victims and therefore it didn?t make sense at all for the Congress to withhold funding of the African peacekeeping mission in Darfur at a critical moment, when the response really made a difference between the continuation of the mission or its paralysis.?

Mr. Baldo says since both the Khartoum summit and the peace talks in Nigeria?s capital, Abuja, are failing to resolve the animosity among rebels or ethnic divisions between Darfur civilians and marauding militias, the international community is steadily becoming disengaged from helping to mediate the conflict.

He says, ?The problem is that these negotiations are not going anywhere because both parties are showing little willingness to compromise. Also, there are splits between the rebels that are making things more difficult, and the government is just exploiting the objective weaknesses of the delegations for disadvantage by just sitting back and not making an effort. Therefore, the international community has to a certain degree remained disengaged from the African Union mediation.?