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US Special Envoy to Meet Sudanese Leader
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US special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios is due to meet Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir over the deployment of an international force in Darfur on Wednesday, the State Department said on Monday.

The meeting between Natsios and al-Bashir will "focus on the importance of getting in this AU/UN hybrid force. I think the Sudanese government understands full well that it is well past due," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

"We would encourage them (Sudanese) to act on their acceptance of the hybrid AU/UN force. There are actions that they need to take, there are actions the UN need to take," McCormack said.

In late August 2006, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution which calls for the deployment of up to 20,000 UN peacekeepers to replace the ill-equipped African Union contingent in Darfur.

Khartoum was adamantly opposed to the UN deployment in Darfur but under intense international pressure, the Sudanese government voiced its readiness to implement the three-phase UN peace plan for Darfur including deployment of a joint UN-AU force there.

The United Nations was reportedly to deploy a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, made up of 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers, compared to the current strength of just 7,000 ofAU force in Darfur to monitor an area roughly the size of France.

Tens of thousands have been killed and more than two million forced from their homes by the fighting and a widespread campaign of rape, killing and burning in non-Arab villages since the Darfur revolt began in early 2003.

(Xinhua News Agency March 6, 2007)

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