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Mbeki to push Sudan on UN peace force

The South African President will seek ways to strengthen implementation of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

india Updated: Jun 14, 2006 11:16 IST

South African President Thabo Mbeki will visit Sudan on June 20, hoping to press Khartoum to approve a UN takeover of an African Union peacekeeping operation there, a senior government official said on Wednesday.

Mbeki's one-day visit would include talks with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and First Vice-President Salva Kiir, who is also president of South Sudan, Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said.

"This will be a good opportunity for the president ... To discuss progress made," Pahad told reporters.

He said Mbeki's visit would seek ways to strengthen implementation of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the deal struck 18 months ago that ended a 20-year civil war in the southern part of the country.

However, he said Mbeki would also press Khartoum to agree to an African Union proposal to allow the United Nations to take over from a 7,000-member AU force that is struggling to monitor a widely-ignored truce in Sudan's western Darfur region.

"You cannot manage without it (a UN presence)," Pahad said. "The situation is grave."

Pahad said South Africa hoped most of the peacekeepers would still come from African countries, which could allay what analysts say are Sudanese fears that a UN force would seek to arrest officials and government-allied militia leaders likely to be indicted by the International Criminal Court investigating alleged war crimes.

He said Pretoria, which itself has 437 troops in the AU force in Darfur, believed that only the UN would have the resources needed to mount an effective peacekeeping operation.

Sudan's Foreign Minister Lam Akol said discussions were necessary on the future role of the UN in Sudan.

"We said that once a peace agreement is signed, we are ready to discuss with the UN what role they can play, like what we did in the south," Akol said after a meeting with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy in Paris.

"We are discussing now the kind of mission, what is the mission of the force that will come, what size, what composition, which areas they come from," he said.

Akol said Khartoum would meet deadlines in a the AU-mediated deal signed on May 5 with one of three rebel factions, calling for Khartoum to present a plan to disarm the Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, by June 22 and to complete disarmament by the end of October.

"Yes. We intend to comply with the provisions and deadlines that are provided for in the Darfur peace agreement," he said.

A senior UN official, in Sudan on a week-long mission seeking to plan for a possible transition, said yesterday that UN troops would not be able to deploy in Darfur before January 2007, making it likely that the AU force would remain in the country beyond its September 30 mandate.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than two million forced from their homes in fighting since non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing the Arab-dominated government of monopolising wealth and power and marginalising Darfur.

Washington has described the violence as genocide, which is denied by Khartoum.

First Published: Jun 14, 2006 11:16 IST