Ethiopia pledges 5,000 troops for Darfur

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ADDIS ABABA, Oct 4 (Reuters) Ethiopias today said it could contribute 5,000 troops to a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region.

''Ethiopia is ready, the troops are equipped, and we are waiting for a request from the AU and the United Nations to disperse the troops to Darfur,'' Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told a news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Ethiopia is the Horn of Africa's main military power.

A 26,000-strong combined UN-AU mission is due to replace a struggling AU force in Darfur. But deployment has been delayed by a lack of pledges of well-equipped troops.

While African nations have promised almost double the number of infantry needed for the force, there are questions over whether those soldiers would meet UN standards.

International experts say that some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million been driven from their homes during the Darfur conflict, sparking the world's largest humanitarian operation.

The African Union mediated a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels in May 2006, but only one of three rebel negotiating factions signed the deal.

REUTERS JK RK1444

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