Top diplomats try to spur Darfur force and talks

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 (Reuters) Senior diplomats from 26 countries sought to give momentum to deployment of a peacekeeping force in Darfur and cease-fire negotiations but divisions remained over who would supply the troops.

Meeting for more than four hours yesterday the officials called on nations to pledge financial and other aid to the planned African Union-United Nations force of up to 26,000 troops and police for Sudan's western region.

Four years of warfare have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and driven 2.5 million people from homes in the region.

''Everybody recognizes that this is just the beginning of the hard part -- deployment and peacemaking,'' said Mark Malloch Brown, Britain's minister of state for Africa.

''Violence has not abated,'' he said, referring to renewed fighting this week in Darfur, especially in overcrowded camps for people chased out of their homes.

However, the composition of the peacekeeping force has revealed splits over the deployment of non-African troops, though both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare, who chaired the closed-door talks, denied this was the case.

UN officials said Sudan, backed by the AU, had turned down infantry from Thailand and Uruguay. Khartoum even rejected an engineering unit from Norway, although it pledged to allow non-African units for specialized tasks.

''We don't think Sudan has anything to be afraid of with respect to allowing and agreeing to some of these non-African specialized niche forces to participate in generating a peacekeeping force for Darfur,'' US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told reporters.

He said this would not ''violate the principle of a predominantly African force'' the United Nations has approved.

Sudan's Foreign Minister, Akol Lam, said African nations have supplied ''190 per cent'' of the ground troops needed and other nations could help with logistics as well as funds.

Konare agreed, saying, ''We have confirmed that we have sufficient offers on all fronts,'' adding: ''I am sure that we will reach understanding on the very technical matters that we are discussing.'' But Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, has said not all African contingents had the proper equipment or training for various functions.

PEACE NEGOTIATIONS Yesterday's meeting also insisted all rebel groups attend peace talks with the government, scheduled for October 27 in Libya, with Negroponte threatening sanctions if against rebel leaders rejected the negotiations.

One key rebel leader, Paris-based Abdel Wahid Mohamed el-Nur, founder of the Sudan Liberation Movement, has refused to attend.

''If an important rebel group chooses not to attend ... that should not be a cost-free choice,'' Negroponte said. ''The notion of sanctions is not limited to the government alone. It also relates to rebel groups' leaders.'' The Libya meeting would seek to end a conflict that has generated one of the world's worst humanitarian crises and sparked US accusations -- dismissed by Sudan -- of genocide.

Timing of full deployment is still up in the air, with some predicting early next year but others expecting delays, particularly if specialized helicopter and transport units are not offered by Western nations.

''It's certainly not running ahead of schedule,'' Negroponte said. ''The urgency is to get this done as quickly as possible.

''We think that if nothing else, a meeting such as this ...

should be able to give some kind of impulse to get this force up and running as soon as possible,'' he said.


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