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Sudan open to more African peacekeepers

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Oct 25 (Reuters) Sudan would be open to more peacekeepers with a beefed up mandate to police Darfur as long as the force remains under African Union (AU) control, Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told a British newspaper.

Bashir, who has resisted international pressure to allow UN peacekeepers to take over from the AU mission, told the Guardian in an interview that he would allow the European Union or the United Nations to provide logistical support.

Asked if the AU could double its troop strength to 20,000, Bashir said: ''We have no objection to the AU increasing its troops, strengthening its mandate, or receiving logistical support from the EU, the UN or the Arab League for that matter, but this must of course be done in consultation with the government of national unity.'' Experts estimate 200,000 people have died in more than three years of fighting and that 2.5 million have been forced from their homes in Darfur. Washington calls the rape, looting and murder in the region genocide, a charge Khartoum rejects.

The United Nations has passed a resolution authorising the world body to send UN troops and police to take over from the AU peacekeeping mission, which has failed to stem the bloodshed in Darfur.

However Sudan has refused to approve the move, saying that allowing UN troops into the western region bordering Chad would be tantamount to an invasion by Western forces.

Various rebel groups took up arms against Khartoum in 2003 accusing the central government of neglect. Pro-government militias are accused of rape, murder and pillage.

Only one of three rebel factions in Darfur involved in negotiations signed a May peace deal brokered by the African Union. Many non-signatories formed a new alliance called the National Redemption Front (NRF).

The NRF rebels resumed hostilities against the government in June and violence has escalated in the region.

Bashir accused the rebels who did not sign the deal of preventing people returning to their homes in Darfur.

''There are many areas in Darfur which are safe for the return and resettlement of the internally displaced people,'' Bashir was quoted as saying.

''Although this issue has become politicised and as a result there are elements inside and outside the camps resisting any such effort, the government of southern Darfur has already carried out many resettlement programmes successfully.'' REUTERS BDP HS1620

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