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Sudan rejects U.N. troops for Darfur-minister

Written by: Staff

KHARTOUM, Feb 22 (Reuters) Sudan rejects U.S.-backed efforts to have UN peacekeeping troops take over from African Union troops in the country's troubled Darfur region, Foreign Minister Lam Akol said today.

The United States has said genocide is continuing in Darfur with rape, looting and killing by Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, and has urged the African Union (AU) to accept a handover to U.N. peacekeepers.

''The government has rejected this ... We did not hear anybody saying they (the AU) are not doing enough to stop the violence. What we are hearing is that they're short of funds,'' Akol told Reuters.

Sudanese officials had previously shown a softer position towards the deployment of U.N. troops in Darfur, which the AU says it supports ''in principle''. The United Nations has already begun contingency planning for any takeover.

Sudan has in the past taken a hard public stance, rejecting the deployment of any troops to Darfur. But they eventually reluctantly accepted the AU force.

The AU has said the government has at times not cooperated with it, delaying for months the deployment of heavy equipment and placing troops under a night-time curfew in North Darfur.

The government denies any obstruction.

African foreign ministers will make a final decision in early March on any handover. In a statement issued on Wednesday the head of the AU mission in Sudan, Baba Gana Kingibe, said the transition was ''inevitable'' in the long run.

SHAKY CEASEFIRE Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million herded into camps during more than three years of fighting in Sudan's remote western Darfur region. Non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing Khartoum of neglect.

Khartoum is accused of responding to the rebellion by backing the Janjaweed, who are accused of committing atrocities in Darfur. Sudan denies the charges but the International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes there.

Some 7,000 underfunded AU monitors and troops are in Darfur to monitor a shaky ceasefire and the United States says twice that number is needed to ensure peace and has urged Sudan to accept U.N. peacekeepers.

Britain's minister for international development, Hilary Benn, said during a visit to Sudan that Akol and Sudan's two vice presidents had expressed concern at having U.N. troops in Darfur.

But he said it was ''pretty clear'' that the AU would ask the United Nations to take over the Darfur mission, and saw no reason why Khartoum should object.

''I think it's very important that if the AU makes that request ... that the government of Sudan support that because it's about trying to ensure ... that people do not continue to be attacked,'' he told reporters in Khartoum.

The United Nations is deploying more than 10,000 troops to Sudan's south to monitor a separate peace deal signed last year to end a civil war there -- Africa's longest. AU officials have suggested the mission could be extended to cover Darfur.

Reuters PDS VP0100

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