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No UN Darfur mission before Jan 2007

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June 13, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — U.N. troops will not be able to deploy to Darfur before January 2007 and it is vital for peace that Sudan disarm Arab militias blamed for rape and murder in Sudan’s remote west, a top U.N. official said on Monday.

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Jean-Marie Guehenno

A 7,000-strong African Union force is struggling to monitor a widely ignored truce in Darfur but, unable to stop attacks and running out of funds, they have asked the United Nations to take over, a move Khartoum rejects.

"A six month timeline between the decision to deploy and the deployment is a more practical timeline especially if you think of the logistical conditions in Darfur," U.N. peacekeeping head Jean-Marie Guehenno said. "January 2007 is a much more realistic date."

After Sudan’s rejection of U.N. transition, Guehenno and his AU counterpart Said Djinnit are leading a high-level joint assessment team to have talks in Khartoum leading technical experts to Darfur.

The AU has a mandate until September 30 but both peacekeeping chiefs, in a joint interview with Reuters in Khartoum, said the transition had to be smooth so the AU was likely to stay after that date.

Rainy season runs from May to September in Darfur, making dirt track roads virtually impassable and deployment difficult.

But the world body and the pan-African group, after three days of talks, still have to win Khartoum’s support.

Khartoum paints a picture of a Western invasion attracting jihadi militants. Al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri criticised the government as "spineless" for even allowing the assessment mission in.

Analysts say the government is worried that U.N. troops would be used to arrest officials and government-allied militia leaders likely to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), investigating alleged war crimes.

"So far they have kept their position the same ... so they are prepared to engage with the United Nations but they will want to discuss the substance of a possible transition ... once we are back from Darfur," Guehenno said.

Djinnit said the talks were the first direct face to face discussions, calling them "constructive."

"I think it was a very important psychological breakthrough," Djinnit said. The government had been concerned about discussions on transition happening in U.N. headquarters in New York before Khartoum was consulted, he added.

The team will head to Darfur for a week to assess the needs of the AU during the transition and what a U.N. mission will require. On their return talks will continue in Khartoum.

The AU mediated a peace deal in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on May 5, signed by only one of three rebel factions at the negotiations. Thousands of Darfuris are demonstrating daily against the deal, and in some camps, the AU has been attacked and their posts burnt down.

Under that deal, Khartoum has to present a plan to disarm the Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, by June 22, and disarmament is to be complete by the end of October.

Both Guehenno and Djinnit said the government had to demonstrate it was serious about disarming the Janjaweed for the peace deal to succeed. "This is vital," said Djinnit.

Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2.5 million herded into camps by the violence, which Washington calls genocide. Khartoum denies the charge.

(Reuters)

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