Sudan: African Union gears up to send more troops to Darfur

Khartoum_(dpa) _ As Sudan's president continues to oppose the idea of United Nations soldiers in his country, the African Union (AU) mission is stepping up efforts to increase its troop numbers in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, an AU spokesman said Monday.

The AU Peace and Security Council voted last week to extend its mandate in Darfur until the end of this year, following Sudan's refusal to allow a United Nations force to replace the struggling AU mission.

"With 7,700 troops we cannot do this job properly," AU spokesman Nourredine Mezni told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "We need several additional battalions."

Mezni stressed that no decision has yet been made as to how many additional troops will be sent to the region, but one battalion contains 600 troops.

Critics have charged that the AU mandate does not allow it to properly protect civilians and have called for a transfer to UN peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir late on Sunday continued his tirade against the possibility of a UN mission Darfur.

After returning from a visit to New York, al-Bashir told reporters in the capital Khartoum that the UN has "an agenda" and blamed unnamed "Jewish organizations" for fomenting public opinion against Sudan.

" 1/8The UN 3/8 wants to make a pretext through the Darfur issue to control us and to recolonize Sudan," al-Bashir said.

Al-Bashir saved the brunt of his remarks for the United States, which has stepped up pressure in recent days, threatening unspecified punitive measures if Sudan continues to hold off the UN.

In a pointedly tit-for-tat move, al-Bashir said that Sudan will impose restrictions on US officials in the country forbidding them to come within 25 kilometres of his Presidential Palace.

He said that the US had imposed similar restrictions on his delegation to New York last week, fearing they were "terrorists."

Sudan has come under fire in recent days as observers have charged that the Sudanese Armed Forces has been bombing civilian villages in volatile northern Darfur.

Al-Bashir defended the military action, saying that the armed forces are engaging rebels who refuse to sign on to the May 5 Darfur Peace Agreement signed by the Sudanese government and one faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army.

The floundering peace deal has only sparked more violence in Darfur.

Al-Bashir also charged that recent death-toll estimates are "exaggerated," claiming that Sudan estimates no more than 10,000 people have died during the three-year conflict.

Outside estimates put the death toll at 200,000 to 300,000.

The Darfur conflict began when rebels attacked government positions in the remote region, complaining that Darfur remained undeveloped due to neglect by the central government.

Sudan's government is charged with arming militias known as janjaweed to crush the rebellion using a savage campaign of rape and murder, a charge it denies. dpa nk pmc


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