Sudan: NATO drops plan to coordinate Darfur airlift

BRUSSELS, June 8 (Reuters) - NATO on Wednesday dropped a U.S.-backed proposal for it to coordinate a Western airlift of African troops joining peace efforts in Sudan's Darfur region, after France raised objections.

Paris has pledged air transport for troops for the African Union which is seeking to increase its force in Darfur.

However, France said the offer was part of a European Union package and did not want it to be coordinated by NATO.

A NATO official denied the episode showed tension between the alliance and the EU and said NATO instead would manage offers of air transport only from member countries that wanted it to do so -- at present, just the United States and Canada.

"NATO and the EU will work side by side in full transparency and complementarity at all levels," the NATO official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It would be deeply unfortunate if we spent two to three weeks more looking at wiring diagrams between the two organisations," he added, referring to efforts to settle how NATO and EU would work together.

U.N. officials estimate about 180,000 people have died in Darfur through violence, hunger and disease since rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in February 2003. More than 2 million have been forced to flee their homes and are staying in camps.

The African Union wants to triple its Darfur mission to about 7,700 troops by late September. The expansion calls for eight extra battalions -- three from Rwanda, two from Senegal, two from Nigeria and one from South Africa.

Under current planning, the United States would provide transport for the Rwandan troops and France for the Senegalese. Air transport has yet to be agreed for the troops from the other two nations.

Under arrangements expected to be approved by the EU in coming days, the coordination of NATO and EU operations will be handled by an AU-led cell in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa supported by a small number of staff from both bodies.

Besides air transport, the EU has offered a broad package of logistics support to the AU, while NATO has said it could provide services such as training for AU officers.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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