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UN and AU agree on Darfur peacekeeping

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- The United Nations Security Council and the African Union said yesterday they agreed that a UN force should take over peacekeeping in Sudan's Darfur region and that the African troops now on the ground must be reinforced quickly.

Both stressed the Sudanese government must approve the transfer -- and were optimistic it would agree. The regime in Khartoum has since been reluctant to accept a UN force.

Said Djinnat, commissioner for the AU Peace and Security Council, said it was working to upgrade the 7,000-soldier force so it could carry out all the requirements of the peace agreement signed May 5 by the Sudanese government and the largest rebel group in Darfur.

Leaders of breakaway factions from two Darfur rebel groups that rejected last month's peace accord were expected to endorse the agreement today, said Noureddine Mezni, an AU spokesman in Khartoum.

Decades of low-level clashes in Darfur over land and water erupted in 2003 when rebel groups comprised of ethnic Africans rose up against the Arab-led Khartoum government. The government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab militias known as the janjaweed that have been accused of some of the conflict's worst atrocities -- but it denies any involvement.

The three-year conflict has claimed at least 180,000 lives and forced more than 2 million people to flee. One key provision in the accord calls for protection of civilians in the vast western region.

The UN, AU, and aid groups have said violence has worsened since the accord was signed, as armed groups try to secure more territory ahead of implementing a cease-fire. It could be months before a UN force is in place. Djinnat said several battalions are likely to be added to the AU force.

Alpha Oumar Konare, AU Commission chairman, said the AU needed UN help because ``we don't have the capacity to face a peacekeeping situation or an extended conflict."

The next step is the arrival tomorrow in Khartoum of a joint UN-AU team for talks with the Sudanese government and then its trip to Darfur to make a technical assessment for a peacekeeping mission. The team will then report to the Sudanese government and its own leaders.

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