Fighting, paperwork slow Darfur peace plans - UN

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 10 (Reuters) Continued fighting in Darfur is spoiling the atmosphere for negotiations while delays by Sudanese authorities are slowing dispatch of a peace force, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report.

In the report made public today, Ban said he was ''extremely concerned'' about the ''unacceptable'' violence in the western Sudanese region, which he said was ''not contributing to an atmosphere conducive to the peace talks''.

The talks are scheduled to open in Libya on October 27 between the Sudanese government and a range of Darfur rebel movements to try to end a four-year-old conflict. They will be jointly mediated by the United Nations and the African Union.

In his latest regular report on the planned deployment of a 26,000-strong AU-UN peacekeeping force, Ban deplored ''brazen and brutal attacks by as yet unidentified armed groups'' that killed 10 AU soldiers in the town of Haskanita on September 29-30.

''The incident confirms that the ... force which will be deployed to Darfur must be sufficiently robust to defend itself from spoilers and protect civilians from attack,'' he said.

Lack of unity among the rebel movements before the talks continued to be a problem, said Ban, who expressed concern at a statement by Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, that he would continue fighting until a settlement.

But Ban also had critical words for Sudanese authorities, who he said had been slow to provide land for the new peace force and to comment on the list of troop-contributing countries that had been presented to them.

''It is of critical importance that the government extend the support and cooperation necessary to resolve the issues pertaining to land, landing rights for United Nations aircraft and the finalization of the list of troop-contributing countries,'' he said.

A list issued this week by the UN peacekeeping department named 15 countries, most of them African, as proposed troop contributors, in addition to an engineering company from Nordic states.

But it said the force, which will replace the existing, overwhelmed AU force of 7,000 troops, still lacked 24 transport and attack helicopters and two transportation companies that UN officials say would best be supplied by developed states.

Western diplomats say NATO and other militarily advanced countries are already heavily committed elsewhere, such as in Afghanistan, but also have concerns about the command-and-control of the Darfur force, known as UNAMID.

UN officials say advance units, headquarters buildings and financial arrangements for UNAMID will be ready for it to take over from the AU force by the end of this year, but that the full force will not be in place until well into 2008.

Reuters DKS VP0040

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