Home | News    Tuesday 3 October 2006

AU will not abandon Darfur - AU chairman

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Oct 2, 2006 (ADDIS ABABA) — The African Union will not abandon Darfur but it needs more international support if it is to continue its peacekeeping mission, the AU commission chairman said in a meeting with European Union leaders on Monday.

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Alpha Oumar Konare

"Under no circumstance can we leave Darfur without peacekeeping forces. But we know we must strengthen our forces," AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare told a news briefing at the group’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.

An under-funded and ill-equipped 7,000 strong AU force has so far failed to put an end to the violence that has killed an estimated 200,000 and forced 2.5 million from their homes in there years of fighting.

The U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution to send 20,000 U.N. troops to Darfur to take over from AU forces.

But Khartoum has repeatedly rejected the plan. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has accused the West of trying to recolonise his oil-producing country.

The chairmen of both the AU Commission and the European Commission vowed to work with the government of Sudan to find an acceptable formula for maintaining troops in Darfur.

"We want to avoid the Rwanda syndrome where the international community goes out and does not fulfil its responsibility," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, referring to the 1994 genocide.

But analysts and aid workers fear that if no such formula is found a security vacuum could arise when the mandate for African troops expires on Dec. 31.

Fresh fighting in south Darfur highlighted the already precarious situation in camps housing millions of displaced Darfuris. London’s Guardian newspaper reported on its Web site on Monday that clashes between rebel factions on Friday left 40 dead and forced aid workers to abandon the Greida refugee camp.

IMPORTANT CONTRIBTION

Only one of three rebel factions signed an AU-negotiated peace deal with the Sudanese government in May.

Since then, aid workers say violence has increased as rebel groups fracture and all sides try to make territorial gains ahead of any international intervention to end the conflict.

"In the current situation, the African Union cannot assume completely the job if it does not have an important contribution from the U.N.," Michel told reporters.

Talks in Addis Ababa followed a 24-hour visit by the EU group to Sudan to try to break the impasse over peacekeepers.

Western powers insist Khartoum must reconsider its objections to international troops. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the choice for Khartoum was between "cooperation and confrontation".

Faced with a stalemate over peacekeepers, aid officials and diplomats have begun discussing an option called AU-Plus. This would involve an extended AU Darfur mission, augmented by U.N. support, with greater policing power for African troops.

During talks with the EU envoys on Saturday evening in Khartoum, Bashir seemed open to the idea of strengthening the AU mission with more support from the United Nations, the head of the EU in Sudan, Kent Degerfelt, told Reuters.

"It would not be troops but logistical and financial support," Degerfelt said.

Konare and Michel said they still supported a transfer to the United Nations but admitted that could not happen as long as Khartoum rejected the plan.

They stressed that the international community needed to reassure the Sudanese government that there was no hidden agenda, and that one way to do so was to put more pressure on rebels who had not signed the Darfur peace agreement.

The EU is the biggest contributor to the AU mission in Darfur, giving 242 million euro ($307 million) since it was launched.

Asked whether the EU would continue to fund the AU forces if it needed to extend its missionr, Barroso said he was confident it would be possible.

(Reuters)

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