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U.N. 'surprised' by Darfur talks


African Union
United Nations

(CNN) -- The U.N. humanitarian chief says he was "very positively surprised" by talks with Sudanese officials over the crisis in that country's Darfur region.

Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, made those comments to CNN after Sudan's government and two rebel groups signed a peace agreement last week in the Nigerian city of Abuja.

The pact requires the Sudanese government to disarm the janjaweed militia, which has terrorized civilians in its fight with the rebels. The rebel groups that signed the pact must withdraw into specified areas and eventually disarm.

But Egeland added that security for refugees needed immediate improvements.

"This is more than anything a protection crisis," Egeland said after meetings in Khartoum. "I have now had assurances from the government that they will do all that they can do in the areas where they control things to immediately re-establish security

The deal gives the rebels the fourth highest position in the Sudanese government -- senior assistant to the president and chair of the transitional Darfur regional authority -- which will be responsible for implementing the pact.

Rebels took up arms in ethnically mixed Darfur, an arid region the size of France, over what they saw as neglect by the Arab-dominated central government. About 180,000 people have been killed and two million others forced from their homes since the rebels began fighting in February 2003.

The Arab janjaweed militias have systematically raped women and pillaged entire villages in a campaign the United States has branded "genocide."

Egeland said the Abuja pact represented "a positive change after all of these terrible months."

But he said the current African Union peacekeeping force, which numbers about 7,000, should be bolstered and eventually replaced by a U.N. mission so that aid agencies can reach the people of Darfur.

"I met today with some of our most important partners among the many organizations," Egeland said. "They were reporting -- all of them -- serious security problems. 'Incidents' is the wrong word. Outrage, really -- people being stopped at gunpoint by armed groups taking their cars, witnessing their civilian population being raped and abused."

Egeland, along with a CNN crew, was chased away from a refugee camp in the region Monday by angry demonstrators who believed an interpreter for a British-based aid agency was a government spy. The demonstrators were calling for Sudan's government to allow U.N. peacekeepers into the country. (Journalists, aid workers flee refugee camp)

"Longer term, we all hope that there will be a United Nations force that is bigger, stronger (and) better resourced, so that peace can become a reality longer term and all of these refugees and displaced who are in a terrible situation can return home in safety and dignity," he said.

At the United Nations, Security Council foreign ministers held closed-door talks on the Darfur crisis and a U.S.-backed resolution that would establish that force.

"We would expect the government of Sudan to be a part of this effort, lending its full support to the United Nations, the African Union and others that might assist like NATO," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

Rice also urged other countries to boost their assistance to the region, a day after President Bush proposed another $225 million for food aid.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said he was "very pleased" with Tuesday's talks.

"We think the resolution will demonstrate important political support for the Abuja agreement at a potentially critical and fragile time," he said.

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