By Cynthia Johnston
KHARTOUM, May 18 (Reuters) - African Union peacekeepers in Sudan will resume patrols in a Darfur village where five Senegalese soldiers were killed last month in the deadliest single attack on the force since its 2004 deployment, AU officials said on Friday.
The daily patrols -- to guard women collecting firewood around Um Barro village and to escort African Union fuel convoys in the area -- will resume on Sunday, they said.
"Negotiations culminated in a consensus that the AU is to resume its peacekeeping patrols of Um Barro and the surrounding area following a 72-hour grace period," an African Union statement said. The grace period began on Thursday.
The African Union operates an overstretched force of 7,000 in war-ravaged Darfur, where the United Nations says 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced since the ethnic and political conflict there flared in 2003.
Khartoum says only 9,000 have died. A 2006 peace deal between the government and one rebel faction has so far failed to stem the violence.
The African Union suspended patrols near Um Barro last month after gunmen killed the peacekeepers as they guarded a water point near the Chadian border. Three gunmen were also killed.
The attack took place in an area of North Darfur controlled by forces loyal to the former rebel Sudan Liberation Movement. Since the attack, African Union soldiers posted nearby had been largely confined to their camp, officials said.
The killings reinforced fears that violence could undermine the world's biggest humanitarian effort as the stalemate over a large U.N. Darfur deployment drags on. Some 17 AU personnel have been killed in Darfur since late 2004, including seven in April.
Sudan's government has agreed to a U.N. "heavy support package" for Darfur of about 3,500 military personnel. But Khartoum has not approved a "hybrid" U.N.-AU force of more than 20,000 troops and police approved by the world body.
The African Union said the agreement to resume operations around Um Barro followed talks with the former rebel SLM and local tribesmen aimed at ending "weeks of tension" following the April 1 attack.
Senegal has blamed members of an SLM faction that signed a 2006 peace deal with the government for the attack. That faction, headed by Minni Arcua Minnawi, has vehemently denied any involvement.
The African Union said the sides had agreed to form an independent commission to investigate the deaths that would include tribal leaders and representatives from the African Union and the SLM. The commission would decide what, if any, compensation was due, and to whom.
The African Union was also conducting its own investigation.
Under the deal, the African Union would also look into establishing a new water point that could serve Um Barro and surrounding villages to alleviate a water shortage. It would also try to help ensure that water resources were well-managed.
An AU statement said that tribal leaders and the SLM had asked that the AU also "continue to extend medical services and supplies to the local community", and the African Union said its humanitarian operations would continue uninterrupted.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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