US may airlift African peacekeepers to Darfur
By SARAH EL DEEB,Associated Press Writer AP - Tuesday, November 4
KHARTOUM, Sudan - The U.S. envoy for Africa said Monday that Washington was ready to airlift as many as 4,000 peacekeepers, including Ethiopians and Egyptians, for the joint U.N.-African Union mission to Darfur.
The mission started deploying in Darfur in January but remains at less than half of its 26,000 authorized capacity, and has complained of Sudanese government stonewalling and transport problems.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, who arrived here from a trip to Congo, said the Sudanese government has made "important progress" recently in speeding up the deployment of the peacekeepers.
"There has been important progress," Frazer said. "But we are looking to get at least 3,000 to 4,000 (peacekeepers) in Darfur. We certainly have offered the U.N. to help do airlift if they need to bring in both troops and to move equipment."
After Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was accused of genocide in Darfur in July, authorities here eased some procedures including issuing visas for promised troops. The move was an apparent response to Western demands for cooperation with the international community.
Al-Bashir dismisses the charges brought against him by the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, and says his country won't recognize the tribunal. But al-Bashir and his government are also lobbying supporters and others to freeze the international prosecution.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor said the U.S. offer to help ferry more troops and equipment into Darfur was first made in September, during Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha visit to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
Alor said his government welcomed the U.S. airlift which he expects to take place soon.
"I was told anytime from now they will start transporting equipment for Ethiopian and Egyptian troops," Alor told The Associated Press.
Officials of the U.N.-AU mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, say they expect their deployment to reach 15,000 uniformed personnel by the end of this year, or 60 percent of authorized capacity. That boost will be comprised mostly of Egyptian and Ethiopian peacekeepers.
The mission officials have scaled back their expected 80 percent deployment target, citing deteriorating security. The force stands now at 11,500 troops.
The Darfur conflict began in early 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Sudan's Arab-dominated central government, accusing it of discrimination. Many of the worst atrocities in the war have been blamed on the janjaweed militia of Arab nomads allied with the government.
U.N. officials say the only way to end the fighting that has killed up to 300,000 people and forced 2.5 million to flee their homes is through political talks and a peace agreement.
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