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US Rice hopes Sudan will okay Darfur force

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Nov 17, 2006 (HANOI) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday a proposed compromise peacekeeping force in war-torn Darfur is a chance for Sudan’s ostracized leaders to "make right with the international system."

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US Condoleezza Rice

African, Arab, European and U.N. leaders agreed in principle Thursday to a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force for Sudan’s Darfur region.

"It’s my hope now that the Sudanese government will accept this proposal because the situation in Sudan is not improving and it has the danger of getting much worse," Rice said. She spoke to reporters traveling with her for a Pacific Rim economic summit.

Representatives from Sudan have said they needed to consult with their superiors in Khartoum before the government, which has strongly opposed allowing U.N. troops in the country, could give its approval. Sudan’s reservations include the question of who would be in charge of the soldiers.

An outmanned, ill-equipped and underfunded African Union force is already in Darfur, a vast, remote province where a three-year war has left some 200,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced.

In recent days, pro-government militia forces known as janjaweed have stepped up attacks on villages in Darfur, killing dozens of people, international observers said Wednesday. In one raid, janjaweed militiamen — backed by government troops — forced children into a thatched hut, then set it ablaze, killing parents who tried to rescue the children, rebels said.

The compromise force would blend A.U. forces with U.N. troops in an attempt to make the force more palatable to Sudan’s Arab-led government in Khartoum.

The government, which is accused of unleashing the janjaweed to quell a tribal rebellion against the government, rejected a proposed 20,000-troop U.N. force last month and expelled the U.N.’s Sudan envoy, Jan Pronk.

Asked if the new proposal represents a last chance for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Rice demurred.

"I don’t think it’s ever fair to talk in those terms, but I do think its certainly a real opportunity to resolve what is an extremely difficult problem and to get back on a road where innocent people can be protected and where the Sudanese government has the chance to make right with the international system," she said.

The combined force could be as large as 27,000, including the existing 7,000-member AU peacekeeping force in Darfur. Its backers did not lay out a timetable for the force to begin work.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the additional personnel could include as many as 17,000 soldiers and 3,000 police officers.

Last month. President Bush warned Sudan’s government that it must move soon to end the deadly conflict and said a "credible and effective" international force is crucial to bringing peace to the region.

"The government of Sudan must understand that we’re serious, when you deliver a message to them on behalf of our government, that we’re earnest and serious about their necessity to step up and work with the international community," the president said on Oct. 31.

After years of low-level clashes over water and land in the vast, arid Darfur region, rebels from ethnic African tribes took up arms against Sudan’s Arab-dominated central government in 2003.

The conflict has destabilized a wide region that includes parts of neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. The chaos has been exploited by rebels from Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic, and ethnic violence mirroring attacks in Darfur has been seen in Chad in recent weeks.

The Sudanese army has denied any connection to janjaweed attacks, saying the claims were politically motivated.

(AP)

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