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AU Makes Compromise on Darfur Mission
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A conciliatory decision was taken by the African Union (AU) on Friday on the fate of its peacekeeping mission in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

The Sudanese government immediately welcomed the decision adopted by the AU Peace and Security Council (AU-PSC) in a meeting in Addis Ababa to extend its peacekeeping mission in Darfur until Sept. 30 this year and to support in principle a UN takeover of the peacekeeping mission.

Abu Zaid al-Hassan, Sudan's Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative in the AU, described the decision as " balanced", adding that "it met most demands of Sudan."

He referred to the two main points satisfying the Sudanese side particularly, one of which was the UN would not send any peacekeeping forces to Darfur without an agreement of the Sudanese government, and the other was the AU-PSC agreement of principle to hand over the peacekeeping mission to the UN was not a final decision.

The AU-PSC also called on the international society to exert its influence to push the peace negotiations between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebel movements forward, and urged the parties involved in the conflict to be committed to the 2004 ceasefire accord.

However, by agreeing in principle on the UN takeover of the Darfur mission after six months, the AU-PSC only postponed a final showdown.

In January, the AU said it could not afford a 7,800-strong African force which was deployed in Darfur in 2004, and suggested a UN takeover of the mission.

The United States has been pressing the African Union, and Sudan in particular, to accept the deployment of an international force to contain the worsening security situation in Darfur.

But the Sudanese government dismissed the proposal as an intervention in Sudan's internal affairs.

Rabia Abd al-Ati, adviser of the Sudanese Ministry of Information and Communications and former Director General of the Sudanese News Agency, said the AU-PSC decision was "expected and unsurprising", which gave the parties an opportunity to review their positions.

"The decision indicates the seriousness of Sudan's opposition to the existence of foreign troops on its territories," the famous political analyst told Xinhua.

Tens of thousands of Sudanese marched through Khartoum on Wednesday, protesting the proposed U.N. takeover.

On the eve of the AU-PSC meeting, the Sudanese government stressed that it would accept the deployment of international forces in Darfur only after a peace agreement was signed between the government and the Darfur rebel movements.

Commenting on the AU-PSC decision, Jamal Mohamed Ibrahim, Spokesman of the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, expressed his hope that the peace agreement would be reached before Sept. 30, adding that the decision kept the Darfur file in the AU's hand.

Clashes flared up in Darfur in February 2003 when local farmers took up arms against the Sudanese government, accusing it of neglecting the barren area. Thousands of people have been killed and more than a million displaced in the violence.

(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2006 )

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