KHARTOUM, Sudan – A top adviser to Sudan's president said Thursday there was no problem with including U.N. troops with African soldiers in a mixed Darfur peacekeeping force, but that the levels of each side still had to be worked out in a key deal aimed at ending violence in the war-torn region.
The comments by Mahzoub al-Khalifa contradicted earlier comments by Sudan's foreign minister, Lam Akol, who insisted the U.N. could only provide technical support to the African Union force.
But al-Khalifa is the top Sudanese official on Darfur and is considered close to President Omar al-Bashir, who is to make the final decision on the agreement.
For months, Sudan has strongly opposed allowing U.N. troops into Darfur. But its representatives agreed in principle to the mixed peacekeeping force during talks Thursday in Addis Ababa. The delegation said they had to consult with the leadership in Khartoum before giving final approval.
"The concept of a mixed AU-UN force for Darfur is not a problem, as long as it remains clear that the leadership of the force, and its largest component, remain African," al-Khalifa told the Associated Press.
"We can discuss the exact numbers and the command structure later, according to the needs in the field," he said, responding to a UN suggestion for 17,000 peacekepers to join the UA force.
Akol earlier insisted the Addis Ababa accord did not mean UN peacekeepers will join African Union troops in a joint force.
"There should be no talk about a mixed force," Akol told the official Radio Omdurman. "What we are discussing and what is agreed upon, is an African Union force assisted by the United Nations."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Thursday night that a multilateral agreement had been reached in principle for the creation of a joint African Union and U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur. He said it could provide for the deployment of as many as 17,000 soldiers and 3,000 police officers.