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Sudan Approves UN 'Heavy Support Package'
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Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol announced on Monday that his government had approved a "heavy support" package from the UN for the African Union (AU)peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

He told a press conference that the approval was made after the difference on the deployment of attack helicopters was ironed out after his government had agreed limited number of such helicopters as a part of the "heavy support" package.

During a tripartite meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on April 9, representatives of the UN, the AU and the Sudanese government reached an agreement in principle to inaugurate the second phase of a UN support plan for the AU mission in Darfur, known as "the heavy support phase."

But the Sudanese government's opposition for the deployment of attack helicopters in Darfur had blocked the scheduled implementation of the second phase after the "light support" package had been delivered in the first phase.

"Sudan has approved completely what had been discussed in the tripartite meeting in Addis Ababa, opening the way for the steps to be taken on the heavy support package," the Sudanese foreign minister said.

He stressed the importance that the United Nations adopts a resolution on financing the proposed UN-AU hybrid force before the African countries can be demanded to contribute more troops for the peacekeeping troops.

Akol said that the UN and the AU would make a decision on the size of the hybrid force in coordination with the Sudanese government according to previous agreements reached by the three sides.

The latest development comes following a wave of visits by foreign envoys in Khartoum in the past 10 days, including Chinese government special envoy Zhai Juan and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's special envoy Abdel Salem Triki as well as US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.

During Zhai's visit in Sudan on April 6-9, the Chinese envoy asked the Sudanese government to show more flexibility on the three-phase support plan to "respond to the concerns of all the parties concerned," while noting that all discussions and consultations should be conducted "on the basis of equality."

The support plan was also known as the Annan plan as it was put forward by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and accepted in principle by all the three parties in their meeting in Addis Ababa on Nov. 16 last year.

It stipulates that the UN increases gradually its logistic, technical and human power support for the 7800-strong African peacekeeping force in Darfur until a joint UN-AU force is formed.

The Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday that Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir had called the Saudi king and announced that Sudan has signed a joint agreement with the UN and the AU on the implementation of the Annan plan.

Local analysts believe that the Sudanese government's approval for the attack helicopters came apparently after compromises made by Washington on the command of the hybrid force, which Khartoum said should remain in the African's hand.

At a press conference held in Khartoum on Monday morning before ending his five-day visit to Sudan, Negroponte called for a quick deployment of the UN-AU hybrid force, saying that the troops would be predominantly African and would be commanded by an African.

"We must move quickly to a larger hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force with a single unified chain of command that conforms to UN standards and practices," Negroponte said.

"We also acknowledge and have agreed that the preponderance, the majority of these forces will be recruited from African countries and the commander of this UN-AU force will also be from Africa," he added.

(Xinhua News Agency April 17, 2007)

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