Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sudan under pressure on U.N. peacekeepers

By Opheera McDoom and Jeremy Lovell
Tuesday, May 23, 2006; 2:03 PM

KHARTOUM/LONDON (Reuters) - The Sudanese government must agree to let a U.N. peacekeeping force into Darfur within weeks to make sure a peace agreement is applied, African Union commission chief Alpha Konare said on Tuesday.

"In two months' time the rainy season starts. If confidence does not rule again to improve the security situation by then, it could be very bad," he told reporters after meeting

"The credibility of the agreement lies in making sure the undertakings are applied. We must lose no more time. If there is any doubt, everything comes into question," he added.

He was speaking as senior U.N. diplomats began talks in Khartoum to try to persuade Sudan to agree to the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to replace a cash-strapped and ill-equipped African Union (AU) force.

Khartoum initially resisted the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers, saying this would cause an Iraq-like quagmire that would attract Islamist militants into attacking the U.N. troops.

But since the government and the main Darfur rebel group signed a peace deal on May 5, Khartoum has softened its stance.

It says it does not reject a U.N. force but wants to be consulted about its mandate in Darfur -- an ethnically mixed region the size of France, whose people have been swept up by a wave of violence since the rebellion began in 2003.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan telephoned Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to urge him to let a U.N. military planning team into Darfur as soon as possible, chief U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

The Khartoum government has yet to issue invitations or visas to the planning team, despite a deadline on Tuesday set by the U.N. Security Council last week.

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