Mbeki pledges more troops for UN-AU Darfur mission

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CAPE TOWN, Nov 6 (Reuters) South African President Thabo Mbeki told his Sudanese counterpart Omar Hassan al-Bashir today he would strengthen South Africa's commitment to a UN-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur.

At a banquet after the leaders met in Cape Town, Mbeki said he was committed ''to add to the military and police contingents we have sent to Darfur as part of AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan) in keeping with the needs of the AU-UN hybrid force.'' After lengthy negotiations Khartoum agreed to allow the deployment of 26,000 United Nations and African Union troops to Darfur early next year to try to stem 4-1/2 years of violence which AU troops alone have been unable to quell.

But deployment of the hybrid force has been hampered by a dispute over its composition. Bashir said today international meddling would backfire.

Repeated efforts to end the fighting have so far failed.

A 2006 peace agreement signed in Abuja, Nigeria by only one rebel faction, triggered more violence as rebels split into more than a dozen groups. Talks hosted by Libya on Oct 27 ended quickly after three main rebel factions refused to participate.

Mbeki, who has mediated crises in a number of African nations and has troops involved in peacekeeping missions in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, said the Abuja agreement should be the framework for a new round of talks.

He called on all sides of the conflict in Sudan's vast west to join peace talks and he urged the international community to act against those who fail to do so.

Some 200,000 people have died since rebels took up arms in 2003 accusing the central government in Khartoum of neglect.

Khartoum says its critics exaggerate the crisis and only 9,000 people have died.

While much of the violence has been blamed on the Janjaweed, a predominantly Arab militia allied to the Sudanese government, Darfur faces new challenges as a result of tribal battles and plintering among the rebel groups.

Sudan is familiar with prolonged conflicts.

A 2005 peace deal between its government and rebels largely based in the southern part of the country ended what had been Africa's longest civil war, which claimed 2 million lives and drove 4 million people from their homes.

But members of the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) pulled out of the northern government last month saying Khartoum has not implemented key parts of the agreement.

The two sides met on Tuesday to seek a final deal to end the political crisis.

Bashir said today Khartoum was committed to the north-south peace agreement and that there would be no return to hostilities.

''I would like to assure you there will be no return to war whatsoever...,'' he said.

One issue cited was the presence of government soldiers in southern oil fields.

Yesterday, Bashir said during a visit to Burundi that northern government troops remaining in the semi-autonomous south would quit the region before the end of the year.


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