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Sudan agrees to more peacekeepers

From Jonathan Wald CNN

This camp near Seleah village in Sudan's West Darfur province is home to thousands of Sudanese who have fled fighting and unrest.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Peacekeepers from the African Union will be increased to help protect civilians in the afflicted Sudanese region of Darfur, the country's foreign minister said Thursday.

According to Mustafa Osman Ismail, speaking to reporters after a private meeting with the Security Council, he discussed the issue with African Union officials "just a few days ago" and an additional 1,000 African Union troops would go to Darfur to work with Sudanese police.

Ismail's comments came a few hours after Juan Mendez, the United Nations' Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, told the Security Council that war crimes had probably occurred "on a large and systematic scale" in Darfur and many people displaced by the conflict "had no confidence in the [Sudanese] police, oftentimes saying that the police themselves had taken part in the attacks."

The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said rape was widespread and "most cases are not investigated by police." Arbour told the Security Council the most important measure needed in Darfur was the "deployment of an international police presence ... to accompany, encourage and monitor the national police and provide training and advisory services to them."

Ismail said he supported an extension of the mandate for African Union troops to include the protection of civilians.

"They're going to bring more than a thousand police together with the monitors in order to work with the Sudanese police officers for protection and checking and so on," he said.

Nigeria's President and Chairman of the African Union, Olusegun Obasanjo, said last Thursday that the African Union would send between 3,000 and 5,000 troops and monitors by the first week of October but that millions of dollars would be needed for the deployment. The exact number of troops and a date when they will arrive in Darfur has not been set.

At the first Presidential debate held Thursday in Miami, President Bush said "my hope is that the African Union moves rapidly to save lives."

After Ismail's meeting with the Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Danforth said "we have stated for a long time that the African Union is the key to this and that getting the African Union actually on the ground in Darfur is crucially important -- whether this will be actually facilitated in practice by the Government of Sudan remains to be seen."

The 53-nation African Union currently has 68 monitors with a protection force of around 300 in Darfur, a western region of Sudan about the size of France.

The United Nations and the United States have described the Darfur conflict as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Estimates on the number of people who have died since violence broke out in February 2003 vary dramatically. Humanitarian groups put the number of dead at 50,000. Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has speculated as many as 90,000 may have died from disease and direct hostilities in the last nine months.

About 1.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict and are living in 98 refugee camps across the country, which Arbour called "prisons without walls."

The conflict in Darfur began when black Sudanese rebels attacked government property, accusing the government of neglecting Darfur in favor of the Arab population in Sudan. The government responded by setting up Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, to put down the rebellion. The warring factions agreed to a cease-fire in April but it has repeatedly been broken, including more than 20 times in the last month alone.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State said the conflict in Darfur constituted genocide. In the next few days U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, is expected to establish a Commission of Inquiry to determine whether genocide has taken place.

According to a representative from the U.S. mission Annan told the Security Council Thursday it would take the Commission two months to reach a conclusion once it was set up.

The Security Council has passed two resolutions in the last three months requesting the Sudanese Government resolve the crisis in Darfur.

The second resolution, which passed on Sept. 18, said it "shall consider" sanctions against the Sudanese Government and its oil industry if it failed to curb the violence and accept an increased African Union force.

"The Government continues to convey neither a sense of urgency nor an acknowledgment of the magnitude of the human rights crisis in Darfur," said Arbour.

In an interview published Thursday in the Egyptian newspaper, Al Ahram, Sudanese President President Omar Hassan Al Bashir accused the United States of training and arming rebels from Darfur. "Who else than the United States is behind this ... they took rebels to Eritrea, and set up training camps for them, spent money on them, armed them and gave them Thuraya cell phones to speak between anywhere in the world," Bashir said according to the article.

John Danforth called the allegations "baloney."

Ismail said he was not aware of Bashir's comments.

"I have to go back and make sure that it is what he said and in what context," he said.

A conflict between the north and south of Sudan also remains unresolved. Danforth said completing the stalled Naivasha peace process was critical to ending the violence in the west.

By demonstrating "how minorities with grievances are accommodated within the government structure" Danforth said Naivasha could serve as a blueprint for securing peace in Darfur.

More than 2 million people have died in Africa's longest-running civil war during 21 years of fighting between the Islamist government in the north of the country, and Christians and animists in the south, commanded by rebel leader, John Garang.

"We were all set to get a U.S. government plane," Danforth said, "fly Bashir and Garang to Washington for the State of the Union and claim the success of the Naivasha peace talks -- that was nine months ago, there is no reason why this is dragging on."

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