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Canada mulls expanding Darfur peacekeeping mission

Written by: Staff

OTTAWA, Apr 5 (Reuters) Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper mused publicly today about the possibility of expanding Canada's peacekeeping role in the conflict-ridden Darfur region of western Sudan, implying more demands on Canada's already-stretched armed forces.

''We have given that some preliminary consideration. We haven't reached any final decision,'' Harper told reporters after meeting with his caucus.

''This is obviously something that would have to be worked out in concert with all of our allies, including the United States and others, and I do plan to have further discussions with (US) President Bush and others on the subject.'' Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million have been driven from their homes during more than three years of rape, killing and pillage in Darfur since rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government. Khartoum is accused of arming militias in retaliation.

Harper and Bush discussed Sudan briefly at a North American leadership summit in Cancun, Mexico, a week ago, but provided no details at the time.

Canada has about 50 personnel dedicated to operations in Sudan, including 32 with a United Nations mission.

But Harper today suggested the new Conservative government might consider adding to its presence, noting the humanitarian problem in the region is enormous.

''It's deeply shocking to anybody who's familiar with it. At the same time, we need to make sure that any political or any peacekeeping initiative will be effective,'' he said.

The possibility of sending more resources to the area comes as Harper faces pressure from some corners for a parliamentary debate on Canada's military mission to Afghanistan, where Canada has sent 2,300 troops and is commanding a multinational task force.

Canada has faced international criticism for the relatively small size of its military, which was saw its budget sharply cut back in the 1990s.

A Canadian Senate committee last fall said the military is suffering from a ''legacy of neglect'' that has left it unable to cope with the threats and demands of today's world.

Reuters PG VP0140

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