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Sudan Gov...t Agrees to Allow UN Peace Force into Darfur

By Robert F. Worth


The Sudanese government Thursday agreed in principle to allow a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force into the war-stricken Darfur region, reversing its longstanding refusal to let U.N. troops in.

The agreement, reached after a day of talks with U.N. officials in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, raised hopes for a more effective peacekeeping effort in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed in brutal ethnic and tribal warfare since 2003. A small African Union peacekeeping force has been unable to quell the violence.

It is not clear how soon the new force can enter Darfur. Two major issues must still be worked out before the agreement becomes final: the number of troops, and how the commander will be selected.

A document issued by the parties in the talks — members of the U.N. Security Council, the Arab League, the African Union and a number of African leaders — specified a force of 17,000 soldiers and 3,000 police officers. The issues will be taken up at a meeting scheduled for next Friday in Brazzaville, Congo Republic.

“This is welcome news, after working tirelessly to find a solution for Sudan,” said Richard A. Grenell, a spokesman for John R. Bolton, the American ambassador to the United Nations. Andrew S. Natsios, the American special envoy for Sudan, was at the meeting in Addis Ababa.

The agreement was a breakthrough. Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, had repeatedly rejected requests by Western leaders for a U.N. force in Darfur, a vast arid region in western Sudan. Fighting has grown worse in recent weeks, despite a peace accord signed in May by Sudan and the main Darfur rebel group.

It was not clear what made the Sudanese leaders change their minds. But a U.N. official who was present said the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, had played a role in persuading Sudan’s foreign minister, Lam Akol, that there was no hidden agenda in the effort to introduce a stronger peacekeeping force. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic protocol.

The agreement is something of a personal triumph for Kofi Annan, the departing U.N. secretary-general. He introduced the idea of a hybrid force and lobbied African leaders for days before convening the meeting.

Sudanese rebels said Thursday that government troops and militias had killed more than 50 people in an attack in northern Darfur, Reuters reported. Sudanese officials told Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, that all of his proposed destinations for a three-day tour of Darfur were too dangerous to visit.

The agreement calls for more money, troops and equipment to be given to the African Union force, whose mandate expires on Dec. 31, to supplement a $21 million package that is already being delivered with the permission of the Sudanese government. But the core proposal is the new joint force, which is to be “predominantly African in character” while including “command and control structures” provided by the United Nations.