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US hopes UN force for Darfur this month

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Feb 1, 2006 (WASHINGTON) — The United States hopes to finalize plans this month for a UN peacekeeping mission to replace a beleaguered African Union contingent in Sudan’s Darfur region, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said.

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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, right, greets Abdel Wahid Nur from the Sudan Liberation Movement, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005. (AP)

Zoellick said Washington would use its month-long presidency of the UN Security Council to push proposals for the world body to take over security in an area beset by violence and one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

"What we hope to accomplish in February is the decision by the UN Security Council, which would include the nature of the mission and issues of the size of the mission, implementation," Zoellick said.

"February is a short month, as you know, so we’re trying to push forward on this," he told reporters after talks here with Rebecca Garang, Sudan’s minister of roads and transport and the widow of rebel leader John Garang.

The international community has become alarmed by renewed bloodshed and the risk of war breaking out with Chad after three years of conflict in Darfur that has left up to 300,000 people dead and some 2.4 million homeless.

Some 7,000 troops in the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) were deployed in 2004. But the contingent has has been dogged by insufficient funds and inadequate resources to cope with the carnage.

The United States, which has accused the Sudan government and its militia allies of genocide in their battle against rebels in Darfur, has backed the creation of a more-robust UN force for the region.

Zoellick said AMIS could form the core of the new mission but suggested it might take some time to send international reforcements to Darfur with UN troops already monitoring a peace accord between Khartoum and southern rebels.

"So we are following up with the African Union, the European Union and others to try to see whether we can give additional support to the AMIS mission now but also to transition it to a UN peacekeeping mission," he said.

Zoellick said Washington was also in discussion with NATO countries to boost the trans-Atlantic alliance’s planning and logistics assistance to peacekeeping efforts in Darfur.

(AFP/ST)

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