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Sudan Tribune

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US welcomes progress on UN deployment in Darfur

Dec 28, 2006 (WASHINGTON) — The State Department on Thursday welcomed what it said was “positive movement” by the Sudanese government toward implementing a United Nations plan to end the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region by sending U.N. peacekeeping forces there.

Deputy spokesman Tom Casey noted that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had approved the plan in a letter to outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and that deployment of the first phase of the three-phase plan is under way.

A joint statement issued by U.N. and African Union offices in Sudan said they had provided the Sudanese government Wednesday with a list of names of the 43 U.N. military staff officers and 24 police advisers making up the first U.N. group to be deployed to Darfur.

A U.N. Security Council resolution envisions the eventual deployment of a “hybrid” U.N. and African Union force totaling more than 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers and police.

The existing 7,000-member AU force has been unable to bring stability to the region. Almost four years of sectarian conflict have left more than 200,000 dead and some 2.5 million homeless.

Al-Bashir had been resisting deployment of a U.N. force but has been under increasing international pressure to accept it.

Welcoming al-Bashir’s apparent change of heart, Casey said, “We’re working off the assumption that that the letter from the president and head of state is the accurate and full position of that government.”

The U.N. Security Council welcomed al-Bashir’s new stand Wednesday but fresh doubts about the commitment arose almost immediately.

Contradicting him, Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem said the hybrid force must be smaller and have no U.N. peacekeepers, only U.N. technical and logistical experts supporting African troops.

“The force is African, the leader is an African,” he said. “There is support and logistical support staff by the U.N., wearing their own helmets, but they are not going to engage in peacekeeping activities.”

Casey said he was aware of the ambassador’s comments but added that they do not carry the same weight as a presidential letter.

Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert at Smith College said it is doubtful that al-Bashir will ever permit the kind of U.N. force envisioned in the Security Council resolution.

“In the absence of a robust force, as Khartoum well knows, the current precipitous decline in security will continue indefinitely, ultimately forcing virtually all humanitarian efforts to end,” he said. “The genocidal status quo will be preserved, and people will die in rapidly increasing numbers.”