June 10, 2006

UN-AU talks begin in Khartoum on Darfur troops

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Senior United Nations and African
Union officials opened unprecedented talks in Khartoum on
Saturday, part of a long and painstaking process to convince
the government to accept UN peacekeeping troops in Darfur.

An ill-equipped 7,000-strong AU mission is monitoring a
shaky truce in Sudan's remote west. Unable to prevent attacks
and running out of cash, they have asked for a UN takeover of
the struggling mission, a move Khartoum rejects.

"The United Nations never imposes itself on any country,"
UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno told reporters after
the joint team met Foreign Minister Lam Akol.

"All our peacekeeping operations in Africa are deployed
with the cooperation of the host country."

Guehenno's heading of the joint U.N.-AU technical mission
was unprecedented, UN officials said. His counterpart in the
African Union, Said Djinnit, headed his delegation.

Sudan rejects UN transition in Darfur, painting the picture
of a Western invasion that would attract jihadi militants. Al
Qaeda Islamist Ayman al-Zawahri on Friday criticized a
"spineless" Khartoum for even allowing the assessment mission
to enter Sudan.

But analysts say Sudan really fears UN troops may be used
to arrest officials or militia leaders likely to be indicted by
the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating war crimes
in Darfur.


Akol said military and other technical experts from the
team would be leaving for Darfur on Tuesday. Asked if the
Sudanese government's position had changed, he said: "Any
decisions of any sort will be taken after that," referring to
the team's trip to Darfur.

The joint mission will return to Khartoum for further talks
after visiting Darfur. The mission, which arrived on Friday, is
expected to last around 18 days.

The UN Security Council on its first visit to Sudan a few
days earlier was unable to convince President Omar Hassan
al-Bashir to accept a UN mission.

Tens of thousands have been killed and 2.5 million forced
from their homes during more than three years of rape, pillage
and killing in Darfur after a revolt began in 2003, triggering
revenge attacks which have been branded genocide by the United
States. Khartoum denies the charge.

Rebel groups had accused the Arab-dominated Khartoum
government of neglecting the region.

Akol said the joint team could not tell Khartoum what the
mandate and aim of a possible UN mission in Darfur would be
until after they had visited the region and assessed what was

But the United Nations would have to move fast. The AU has
a mandate only until September 30 and is struggling to find
funds to sustain the mission until then.

Asked if the AU mandate could be extended, Djinnit said it
was too early to say. "It depends ... how soon the United
Nations will be ready to take over ... once all the conditions
are met for that mission to take over the African mission in
Sudan (AMIS)," he said.

The mission's more pressing role is to assess what extra
the AU needs ahead of transition to help implement a May 5
Darfur peace deal. It will likely send at least 3,000 more

"It has to do with what needs to be done as a matter of
urgency for AMIS to be able to perform its responsibilities,"
Djinnit said of the team's visit.

"It has huge responsibilities to maintain peace and to help
in the implementation of the Darfur peace agreement," he said.

The AU-mediated deal was signed by only one of three main
Darfur rebel factions at negotiations. Thousands of Darfuris
have demonstrated almost daily against the deal and attacked
the AU, frustrated at their inability to protect them from