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UN speeds planning for sending UN troops to Darfur

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25 (Reuters) The UN Security Council has voted to speed planning for a new UN peacekeeping force to be sent to Sudan's western Darfur region later this year to relieve underfinanced African Union troops.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council yesterday gave Secretary-General Kofi Annan until April 24 to prepare ''a range of options for a United Nations operation in Darfur.'' But UN officials and council diplomats acknowledged they could not send in UN troops or even an assessment mission to help in the planning without the approval of the government of Sudan, and they encouraged Khartoum to cooperate in an eventual transition.

''Obviously this is a mission that will deploy with the consent of the government of Sudan,'' UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno told reporters.

An African Union peacekeeping force of some 7,000 troops is already in Darfur, seeking to protect villagers from marauding Arab militias that the United Nations and the United States say are being armed by Khartoum -- an accusation the government denies.

But the AU force has proven ineffective in ending the violence, prompting Annan to call for its replacement by a bigger and better equipped UN force.

Sudan's government, however, has said it does not want UN troops in Darfur until a peace agreement is reached in talks taking place in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

The African Union's Peace and Security Council, bending under pressure from Sudan, voted this month to extend its mission in Darfur through Sept. 30, while affirming in principle its plan to eventually hand off to a UN force.

KHARTOUM SEEKS ARAB SUPPORT Mustafa Osman Ismail, adviser to the Sudanese president for foreign affairs, told reporters in Khartoum yesterday his government would be asking Arab leaders attending a summit in Sudan to contribute to the AU force in Darfur.

''We will be asking them to give funds at this summit,'' he said. Arab leaders meet next week in Khartoum for the annual summit of the Arab League.

The main donors to the AU mission in Sudan are Canada, the United States, Britain and the European Union.

The Security Council resolution also extended the mandate of a separate UN peacekeeping mission in southern Sudan, due to expire yesterday.

It also asked Annan to prepare recommendations within a month on how the UN mission in the south could help crack down on Uganda's notorious Lord's Resistance Army, an armed group that has wreaked havoc in the region for decades.

The LRA has terrorized communities in Uganda's remote north for two decades and some of its fighters have recently crossed over into neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

Led by self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Kony, the LRA has killed tens of thousands of unarmed villagers, slicing off survivors' lips or ears and abducting more than 10,000 children as fighters, porters and sex slaves.

Reuters DH VP0548

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