By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS, June 13 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Sudan's agreement on a large force for Darfur "a milestone" on Wednesday but U.N. envoys acknowledged challenges on command structures and finding enough troops.
"It was a milestone development," Ban said. "Even though slow, we have been making steady progress ... and we are now moving toward the right direction."
Sudan accepted the agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Tuesday.
Jean-Marie Guehenno, the undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, backed Sudan's contention that Khartoum would accept non-African troops in the combined U.N.-African Union force of up to 23,000 soldiers and police.
American officials had expressed doubts on Tuesday about Sudan's acceptance of non-African troops, which would make impossible the mission to quell the looting, rapes and killings in Sudan's western region of Darfur.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad threatened U.N. sanctions if Sudan imposed conditions on the force. He will be part of a Security Council delegation going to Khartoum on Sunday.
Ban questioned the skepticism, saying he was aware of "different interpretations" by the media and diplomats about the agreement.
"I was a little bit concerned by skeptical reporting and understandings, observations on this issue," Ban said." I think it would be desirable for the major stakeholders, the international community as a whole, to look at this milestone development of the situation."
Belgian U.N. Ambassador Johan Verbeke, this month's U.N. Security Council president, said, "generally there was a welcoming of this agreement" by members after Guehenno gave assurances that "we can move forward."
The United Nations said priority would be given to African infantry soldiers, but troops from other regions would be recruited if not enough Africans volunteered.
"There will be African, there will be some non-African," Guehenno told reporters. "And I was pleased to see ... that was accepted" by Sudan.
Khartoum has signed several agreements in the past on Darfur which have not been fully implemented. In four years of violence, about 200,000 people have died, experts say.
Sudan's negotiator in Addis Ababa, Mutrif Siddig, said Khartoum had accepted the proposal on troop composition, but emphasized that overall control would go to the African Union, not the United Nations.
China, Sudan's main oil customer and oil supplier, welcomed the agreement in a statement released by its foreign ministry.
"The facts show that dialogue and consultation on an equal footing are the effective channel for political resolution of the Darfur issue," ministry spokesman Qin Gang was quoted as saying.
China has been accused by critics of shielding Khartoum in U.N. debates and U.S. activists launched a fresh campaign on Wednesday to press Beijing to persuade its ally to stop the violence.
COMMAND AND CONTROL
The agreement calls for day-to-day command by the African Union and overall command by the United Nations. But explicit language on how this might work was removed from the final document at the request of the African Union, prompting concern among some non-African troop contributors at the lack of clarity and putting their participation in doubt.
Guehenno, however, was upbeat, saying "we believe that we have the fundamentals of a new type of operation," including command and control.
The United Nations would recruit staff for administration and logistics, and the mission would operate under "U.N. rules and procedures."
The new hybrid force is not expected to be deployed until next year. The United Nations will field about 3,000 military personnel in an interim arrangement to shore up the beleaguered African Union force of 7,000 now in Darfur. Some troops have not been paid for months.
Sudan has not yet agreed to engineering battalions from China, Pakistan and elsewhere, but Guehenno said informal consent had been given.
Non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing the government of neglecting their plight. Khartoum mobilized brutal militia, known as Janjaweed, who then killed, pillaged and raped. In the past year rebel groups have fought each other and also attacked civilians.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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