China to send peacekeepers to Darfur

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BEIJING, Nov 21 (Reuters) China has committed to sending an engineering unit of peacekeepers to Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region at the end of the week, the top UN peacekeeping official said on Wednesday, urging Beijing to expand its contributions.

China has about 1,800 peacekeepers deployed abroad, making it the second-largest contributor after France from among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

On Friday, it will send a corps of 300 to Sudan.

''This engineering unit has a critical role to play to facilitate the deployment of other units,'' Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN's peacekeeping chief, told a news conference.

''The strength of the mission (in Darfur) depends on the willingness of member states to provide additional capacities and deploy units,'' he said.

Guehenno said deployment of the planned 26,000-member UN-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur was still a major challenge.

''There are enormous expectations with that mission. I'm concerned there could be a gap between expectations and what the mission can really deliver,'' he said.

More than four years of ethnic and political conflict in Darfur have left 200,000 dead and driven another 2.5 million from their homes, international experts estimate. Khartoum says those figures are exaggerated and puts the dead at 9,000.

Rights groups have accused China, which has large investments in the Sudanese oil industry, of breaching international rules and fanning bloodshed by selling weapons to Sudan that have been diverted to Darfur.

Guehenno said his meetings in Beijing with officials from the Ministry of Defence, Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Public Security, indicated that Chinese participation in peacekeeping would increase.

China has committed 100 million yuan to expanding its training centre for peacekeepers, which is designed to train anti-riot police teams, the China Daily said.

''Having China involved in a variety of peacekeeping operations is important to us and I think it derives from a broader calculation that China is a global power involved in all continents now,'' Guehenno said.

''China has a stake in the stability of the international system and to protect that stability, particularly in peacekeeping, is indeed a very good investment.'' REUTERS SG RK1415

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