Sudan + 2 more

Sudan: UN Council endorses plans for large Darfur force

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By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, May 25 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council endorsed 40 pages of plans on Friday for a Darfur peacekeeping force of more than 23,000 troops and police to protect civilians and use force to deter violence.

The proposals for an African Union-United Nations so-called "hybrid" force, circulated on Thursday, were handed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Sudan's U.N. ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem for approval by his government.

Calling for implementation of the force, the Security Council demanded that all parties "support the political process, end violence against civilians and attacks on peacekeepers and facilitate humanitarian relief."

An earlier draft had mentioned aerial bombardments by the Sudanese military, a reference deleted by Russia.

But U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the current council president, mistakenly read the original version to the 15-nation council, forcing it to hold a second meeting.

"It was late in the day, Friday ... . We are all human beings," Khalilzad joked afterward.

Sudan has not rejected the force but top officials have said the number of troops was too large and that the United Nations should finance and augment the African Union force of 7,000 with logistics, command and control functions.

Khartoum had stalled for months in approving the first two phases of U.N. support to the African troops. If it consents to the larger force, the council still has to adopt a resolution.

TROOP OPTIONS

The proposals, from the United Nations and the African Union, have two troop options: one with 19,500, composed of 18 infantry battalions, and another with 17,605, with 15 infantry battalions. Police would include 3,772 officers and perhaps an additional 2,500 policemen to establish a local police force in refugee camps.

Non-Arab rebels took up arms in Darfur four years ago, accusing the government of not heeding their plight. Khartoum then armed some Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, who raped, killed and pillaged.

In the last year Arab and non-Arab tribes have been fighting among themselves, shattering an earlier peace accord. Some 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed and more than 2 million have been made homeless since 2003.

The extensive plan outlines difficulties for operating in impoverished, arid Darfur in Sudan's west, where Khartoum's help in providing land and water for barracks was lagging, even for the small U.N. advance contingents now being deployed.

The hybrid force is the third and last step in bolstering the African Union forces.

One of the main tasks is to provide security to the tens of thousands living in camps and patrol humanitarian supply routes and "where necessary escort humanitarian convoys," which have been attacked regularly by armed groups and militia, the document said.

"The harsh terrain and lack of road infrastructure, particularly during the rainy season, would require a force equipped with high mobility ground vehicles and a strong air component," it said.

"The hybrid military force must be capable and ready to deter violence, including in a pre-emptive manner."

The force also is to monitor compliance with the Darfur Peace Agreement signed in May 2006 with the government and one rebel group that has not been implemented.

Sudan stopped bombing raids at the beginning of the year. But last month its air force hit three towns in North Darfur and prevented a meeting of rebel commanders that it had allowed to take place.

The troops also are to monitor the border between Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic, where refugees have fled, often chased by militia. Sudan and Chad support one another's rebels and the report noted that "Chadian rebels in West Darfur and Sudanese rebels in eastern Chad."

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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