U.N. Pledges $22 Million to Help Darfur Forces

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The United Nations has pledged $22 million in personnel and equipment to help the overwhelmed African Union force in Darfur as Sudan blocks the world body from sending its own peacekeepers to the war-torn region, a top U.N. official said Monday.

The package includes military and police advisers, communications equipment and tools like night-vision goggles, said Hedi Annabi, the U.N. assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations. It will be given to the African Union as soon as possible.

The aid has been offered because of Sudan's refusal to allow a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur, Annabi told reporters.

"That (willingness) is not there today (for a United Nations peacekeeping force), so in the meantime we are looking at ways in which we can move forward by reinforcing (the African Union Mission in Sudan) to enable it to go on with its tasks effectively," Annabi said.

"We will soon start discussing a heavier support package, which the government of Sudan also welcomes," said Annabi, who recently visited Sudan.

He did not say how much the second package would be worth.

Annabi spoke after a meeting of African Union, U.N. and Sudanese officials to discuss the deteriorating situation in Darfur with the AU's mandate due to expire on Dec. 31.

The U.N. Security Council voted in August to send more than 20,000 peacekeepers to Darfur to replace the ill-equipped and underfunded African Union force, but Sudan has rejected this.

The African Union currently has 7,000 troops in the violence-plagued region to monitor a shaky cease-fire signed earlier this year by the government and one rebel faction.

The announcement came as the U.N. reported nearly 40 civilian deaths in the last few days in attacks in Darfur by Arab militiamen — some of whom were backed by Sudanese military vehicles.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the African Union also have invited representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council, several African countries, the League of Arab States and the European Union to discuss the deteriorating situation in Darfur, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Dujarric said Annan would attend the meeting Saturday in Ethiopia, as would representatives from Sudan's government.

The African Union's peace and security commissioner Said Djinnit said the organization's peacekeeping mission needed even more donor support. Some pledged millions a few months ago, but little has been received, he said.

"This is a matter of urgency," he said. "This ad hoc way of funding the mission is unsustainable."

The African Union force has been unable to curb violence in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since the conflict began in February 2003, when ethnic African tribesmen took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum.

U.N. investigators and rights groups have blamed the worst atrocities on the janjaweed, a pro-government militia that is widely accused of killing villagers and destroying their homes. The government denies supporting the militia.