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Fragile agreement struck to bring help to Darfur

Sudan has apparently agreed to allow a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in the Darfur region. According to Voice of America reports, the agreement was announced Tuesday by Sudanese officials. However, the U.S. isn’t so sure the pact will hold.

According to African Union officials, the force would be made up of almost 20,000 troops with an additional 3,700 police officers. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon praised the agreement as the “positive conclusion of two days of talks.”

It’s not clear who will make up the force because U.N. officials had wanted it to be an African force with an African commander, but under United Nations command. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir has said the troops must be all African.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said a condition like that would be a deal-breaker.

“To say that the force will be limited to only African troops is in effect to say that you are not agreeing to the full 17,000 to 19,000 troops, which the experts believe is what you need to perform the mission,” he said. “So it’s a statement that on its face, would appear to accept everything. But in fact when you look at it, and examine it closely, it doesn’t.”

Several U.N. diplomats noted that Sudan’s President al-Bashir has previously appeared to accept a blue-helmeted U.N. force when under pressure, only to back track later. They point out that the deal in Addis Ababa comes days before the Security Council is due to visit Khartoum to discuss deployment of the hybrid force.

Washington’s U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad says a number of Council ambassadors support increasing sanctions against Sudan unless it accepts the hybrid force arrangement.

“We have said if we don’t get an unconditional acceptance of the AU-U.N. concept on the hybrid force, then several of us are of the view that we have to go with additional sanctions, tightening sanctions, to incentivize the government to cooperate,” he said.

At the same time, Khalilzad said it is important to note that the violence in Darfur comes not only from the government and government-backed militias, but also from rebel forces. He said all sides have an obligation to comply with Security Council resolutions.

Fighting between ethnic African rebels and pro-government Janjaweed militia in Sudan’s vast western Darfur region began in February 2003 and has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million who have fled their homes to escape the violence. Sudanese officials dispute those figures, saying only a few thousand people have died.

U.N. Envoy Jan Eliasson said both peace and a political process are essential.

There is growing frustration in the camps for displaced people, and an increasing risk of radicalizing camp life, he said. There is also a risk of tribal fighting “growing into a new type of conflict.”

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