African Union: Peacekeepers Mandate in Darfur Extended to End of 2006

The African Union announced Wednesday it will extend the mandate of peacekeeping forces in Darfur through the end of the year, ensuring that international troops will remain in the war-torn Sudanese province for now.

The United Nations will provide material and logistic support to the mission, though Sudan is still resisting demands that the U.N. take over the mission from the AU, said Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, head of the AU Peace and Security Council.

The decision was made in a morning meeting of the AU body also attended by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. When al-Bashir left about halfway through, he withheld comment except to shout "No!" when a reporter asked if he would allow the U.N. to take control of the peacekeepers.

An underfunded African Union force in Darfur has been largely unable to stop the violence in Darfur. Both the AU and the U.N. Security Council have called for the U.N., with its deeper pockets and better resources, to run the mission.

For now, the AU mission will be reinforced and infused with U.N. support with logistics and material, Compaore said.

"Sudan is disposed to work with the United Nations," he said.

The United Nations and many rights groups say that fighting between rebels and government-backed militias in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million since 2003.

Yet al-Bashir denies there is a major humanitarian disaster there, and claimed on Tuesday that human rights groups have exaggerated the crisis in Darfur in a bid for more money.

"The picture that volunteer organizations try to give in order to solicit more assistance and more aid, have given a negative result," Omar al-Bashir told a news conference Tuesday.

During that news conference, he also claimed that U.N. peacekeepers there are meant to protect Israel, carve up Sudan and get access to its oil reserves. He accused Jews of spreading propaganda and organizing anti-government rallies in the country.

In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly earlier Tuesday, U.S. President George W. Bush called the Darfur killings a genocide, and said the AU force is "not strong enough" to protect the victims. He called for the force to be strengthened and demanded the U.N. take control.

The United States and its allies are now weighing whether there are other options for confronting al-Bashir's government, including the possibility of military intervention despite his objections.