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Rebels suspicious of Khartoum deal on Darfur force


June 16, 2007 (KHARTOUM) - Darfur rebels view Sudan’s acceptance of a joint African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force with suspicion, and insist the United Nations should have overall command and control, an unresolved part of the deal.

After months of talks, threats and negotiations, Khartoum agreed to accept a joint AU-U.N. force of at least 20,000 troops and police but said the majority of the troops must come from Africa and command and control should be left to the AU.

The United Nations, which will be expected to fund the mission, has said it wants overall command of the force.

"This is a good step," said Jar el-Neby Abdelkarim, leader of a large rebel faction in Darfur. "Forces to protect the people are always a good thing."

"But we reject any African Union control over these forces. They are weak logistically and inexperienced. The United Nations has to have command and control," he told Reuters by telephone from Darfur.

Since an AU-mediated Darfur peace deal in May 2006, signed by only one of three rebel negotiating factions, the groups have split into more than a dozen factions, creating havoc and a collapse of law and order in Sudan’s remote west.

Ahmed Abdel Shafie, leader of a breakaway rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction, said the Khartoum government had no credibility because they had promised many times to disarm the militia they mobilised to quell the revolt and had failed to do so.

"Khartoum are always saying something and doing the opposite," he said. "The African Union are very influenced by the Sudanese government so we don’t trust them. The United Nations must have command."

International experts estimate 200,000 people have died in four years of conflict and 2.5 million others have been driven from their homes by rape, looting and killing. Washington calls the violence genocide, a term European governments are reluctant to use.

Khartoum says that the Western media exaggerates the conflict and that only 9,000 people have been killed.

A struggling 7,000-strong AU mission, funded by donor nations, has failed to pay some soldiers for months, and has become a target itself. Many aid agencies working in the world’s largest humanitarian operation refuse to travel with the AU, saying they attract fire.

The AU-U.N. mission has an African political and military head but it is not clear who has overall command of the joint force.

Sudan’s government has signed three peace deals in two years to resolve regional conflicts but the lack of implementation has discouraged many.

Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing the central government of neglecting the remote arid west. The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for a junior government minister and militia leader accused of colluding in war crimes in Darfur.


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