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Darfur Players to Meet in Paris, Joint Force Top Agenda
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France brings the United States, the United Nations, China and some 15 other nations together for a major conference today aimed at launching a new international drive to end the four years of conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.

Khartoum is boycotting the conference, angry that it was not consulted during preparations for the meeting and arguing that the French initiative will unnecessarily duplicate efforts by the UN and the African Union (AU).

The AU is also staying away, skeptical about the meeting's purpose and miffed at being kept out of the planning.

French officials said they hope to mobilize the international community at what they called a "pivotal moment" in the conflict, following the Sudanese government's agreement earlier this month to allow the deployment of a joint AU-UN peacekeeping force to replace the 7,000-strong AU force now in Darfur.

Details about the composition, mandate and timetable of the joint force are expected to top discussions at the Paris conference, French officials said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Paris Sunday to take part in the international conference, which will also include officials from the Arab League and the European Union, as well as 11 European countries.

"It's an opportunity for the international system to once again highlight the need for action in Darfur," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters on Friday.

"And perhaps you can see some concrete results out of the meeting," he continued.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was also expected to attend the conference.

China said on Saturday the Paris meeting should pressure rebels who reject a peace deal to come aboard the negotiation process. Special envoy Liu Guijin, speaking after meeting President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Khartoum on Saturday, also said there were no more obstacles to sending a joint AU-UN peacekeeping operation to Darfur.

"The (Paris) conference should be a major venue to persuade the non-signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement to come to the negotiating table," Liu said.

Al-Bashir noted that the Chinese government had been exerting enormous efforts and continuously playing a constructive role in helping resolve the Darfur issue, adding that the appointment of a special representative for Darfur proved again the concern Beijing had over the issue.

The president also said the recent agreement on a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping operation in Darfur proved the true intentions of the government to actively cooperate with the international community.

"The facts have proved that the consultation between the Sudanese government, the AU and the UN is an effective mechanism to solve the problem," Liu said, adding that he hoped the international community would continue its efforts within the framework of this mechanism in order to resolve the Darfur as quickly as possible.

The Chinese envoy arrived in Khartoum on Friday on his second visit to Sudan since he was appointed in May.

Sudan is the last leg of his African trip, during which he has visited South Africa, Ethiopia and Egypt.

On Thursday, the Cairo-based Arab League hailed the Chinese government's efforts to maintain world peace and stability, especially noting its role in Darfur.

During his talks with Liu, Arab League Assistant Secretary General Ahmed Ben Hali expressed the league's appreciation for the Chinese efforts to push for a comprehensive solution to the Darfur issue.

(China Daily via agencies June 25, 2007)

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