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AU, UN ink deal on first phase of ’hybrid’ Darfur force

Nov 256, 2006 (ADDIS ABABA) — The African Union and United Nations have agreed on the first phase of transforming the cash-strapped AU peace mission in Sudan’s Darfur region into a "hybrid" AU-UN force, officials said.

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Said Djinnit African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security.

Amid lingering questions over Khartoum’s readiness to accept UN participation in a joint peacekeeping operation, UN and AU officials signed a memorandum of understanding here Saturday for phase one of the plan, they said.

The agreement formalizes the provision by the world body to the African Union force known as AMIS of a so-called "Light Support Package" of logistics and communications to assist in their patrols in the troubled Darfur region.

"This ... will help ensure a more transparent, systematic and efficient provision of UN support to AMIS," the African Union said in a statement released at its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.

The deal was signed by AU Peace and Security Council Commissioner Said Djinnit and Taye-Brook Zerihoun, the head of the UN Mission in Sudan, it said.

The Light Support Package, which has been agreed to by the Sudanese government, is the first of three phases in the proposed transformation of AMIS into a hybrid AU-UN mission.

The second is a "Heavy Support Package" and the third and most contentious stage is a merger, on which Khartoum’s position remains unclear after an agreement "in principal" was announced here on November 16 by UN chief Kofi Annan.

Sudan has been vehemently opposed to any UN peacekeepers in Darfur and Annan’s announcement took many by surprise, since phase three envisions the deployment of 17,000 UN troops and 3,000 police.

Khartoum has given contradictory signals about its acceptance of a hybrid mission, with debate continuing over the exact number of UN personnel to be involved and what countries could contribute.

African officials, including 15 heads of state, are to meet in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Thursday with the aim of deciding the exact participation of the UN in the currently underfunded, undermanned AU force.

The war in Darfur erupted in February 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum, prompting a heavy-handed crackdown from government forces and a proxy militia known as the Janjaweed.

Conflict and associated famine and disease in Darfur have killed 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million more, according to UN figures. Some sources give much higher figures.

(AFP)