Egypt to send 2,100 peacekeepers to Darfur - report

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CAIRO, Sept 25 (Reuters) Egypt will send more than 2,100 personnel to join a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Darfur region of Sudan, a newspaper reported today.

The Egyptian soldiers would be part of a 26,000-strong joint UN and African Union force due to be deployed in Darfur to end more than four and a half years of conflict there.

''Egypt offered to provide the force with more than 2,100 soldiers, policemen, and observers, a step that reflects President (Hosni) Mubarak's interest in maintaining stability in this Sudanese province,'' said Maged Abdel Fattah, Egypt's delegate to the United Nations, quoted by the Daily News.

Egyptian government spokesman were not immediately available to comment on the report.

Sudan says the joint force should be mostly African and has turned down infantry from Thailand and Uruguay, UN officials say. But Khartoum has promised to allow non-African units for specialised tasks.

Egypt has contributed to a smaller African Union force which has been in Darfur for years but has failed to quell the violence.

International experts say about 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes since 2003.

Sudan puts the death toll from violence at 9,000 and accuses Western media of exaggerating the conflict, which began when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms complaining of neglect.

Egypt, which borders Sudan and has opposed sanctions against Khartoum, has blamed recent violence in Darfur on rebel groups that rejected a May 2006 peace deal.

The timing of the full deployment of the force is still undetermined, with some predicting early next year but others expecting delays, particularly if Western nations do not offer specialised helicopter and transport units.

REUTERS JK VC1525

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