The Sudanese government has accepted the U.N. package for Darfur, including the deployment of what is called a "hybrid" peacekeeping operation of U.N. and African Union troops, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.

Spokesman Sadeq al-Magli said the number of troops in the hybrid force "would be decided by the commander and his committee, and we have to state clearly that the entire command would be from the African Union."

The comment reflected his government's long standing opposition to the deployment of 20,000 U.N. troops in Darfur, as proposed by the U.N. Security Council.

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In deference to Khartoum's opposition, the U.N. scaled back its plans to replace the AU force of 7,000 troops in Darfur with the much bigger U.N. operation and, since early November, has been pushing to reinforce the existing peacekeepers with smaller numbers of U.N. personnel as well as technical and financial assistance.

Speaking Thursday — before the government's assent was announced — al-Magli said a Darfur peacekeeping mission would be "a hybrid operation and not international or joint forces."

He said Friday that the peacekeeping troops would come mainly from African Union countries, but the UN would provide technical assistance, consultants and military and police experts.

Earlier Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he believed the Sudan government had also agreed to make renewed efforts to enforce a cease-fire and negotiate peace with those Darfur rebels who rejected the peace agreement of May. Annan said he had heard that President Omar al-Bashir would approve "a full cease-fire, a renewed effort to bring all parties into (the) political process, and deployment of the proposed African Union-United Nations hybrid force."

Al-Magli said his government had not yet seen Annan's statement, but it was true that "Sudan has confirmed to the (U.N.) envoy that it would sit down for peace talks with the rebel factions any time, any where."

"In fact, a government delegation went to Asmara, Eritrea, on Thursday to look into the possibility of talking to those groups that did not sign the Abuja peace agreement," al-Magli said, referring to the May accord between the government and one Darfur rebel group.

The world "should pressurize the other factions which are attacking the government, humanitarian and civilian communities, to come to cease-fire talks and to stop attacking. But for us in the government, yes, we have confirmed our commitment to the ceasefire," al-Magli said.

The violence in Darfur began in February 2003 when rebels from African tribes took up arms, complaining of discrimination and oppression by the Arab-dominated government. The government is accused of unleashing an Arab militia, the janjaweed, against the ethnic African community in a campaign of murder, rape and arson.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in the fighting, which has escalated since the May accord.

The government denies backing the janjaweed, but U.N. and A.U. officials have accused Khartoum of arming the militia and coordinating regular army attacks with it.

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