Thailand to send 800 soldiers to Darfur peace force

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BANGKOK, Oct 10 (Reuters) Thailand has agreed to send 800 soldiers to join a 20,000-strong United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region, the Foreign Ministry said today.

The infantry soldiers would be sent to the war-torn zone before the end of the year and would stay about a year, the ministry said in a statement.

So far, Thailand, Egypt and Ethiopia have agreed to send a battalion of infantry and countries in the African Union collectively pledged to send five battalions, it said.

The UN and the African Union were considering where the remaining troops, which would come from other branches, and another 6,000 civilian police would come from, it said.

The UN Security Council authorised the joint peacekeeping force in July to protect civilians from fighting that has driven 2.5 million people from their homes over the last four years.

International experts estimate 200,000 people have died in the conflict, which Washington calls genocide, a term European governments are reluctant to use. The Sudan government says 9,000 people have been killed.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report in August the Aug. 31 deadline for troop contributions would have to be extended because ''offers are still lacking for some critical military capabilities, namely aviation, transport and logistics''.

REUTERS PD PM1625

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