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UPDATED: 07:47, September 28, 2006
AU to reinforce peacekeeping strength in Darfur: spokesman
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The African Union (AU) is to expand its peacekeeping strength in Sudan's troubled western region of Darfur from some 7,800 to 10,500 troops, spokesman of AU mission in Sudan Nouredinne Mezni told Xinhua on Wednesday.

The expansion of the African forces was prescribed in a peace agreement signed by the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels in the Nigerian capital Abuja on May 5, Mezni said, adding that the mission currently stand at some 7,800 soldiers and civilian policemen.

"The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) has given the AU forces new tasks in the framework of its security arrangements, including safeguarding the refugee camps, disarming militia fighters and setting up nonmilitary areas," Mezni told Xinhua.

The present African forces could not carry out these new tasks without reinforcing their strength, Mezni stressed.

The African forces have been deployed in Darfur since late 2004 to monitor the implementation of a cease-fire accord reached between the Sudanese and rebel movements in Darfur in April of the same year,

The spokesman added that six fresh battalions would arrive soon in Darfur, and every battalion would consist of 500 to 650 troops.

Mezni also stressed the importance to continue the dialogue between the Sudanese government, the AU and the United Nation on a proposed UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

The AU's mandate in Darfur had been set to expire on Friday and the pan-African body decided last week to extend it until the end of this year.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution last month to create a UN peacekeeping forces to take over the Darfur operations from the underfunded AU force, but Khartoum rejected the deployment of a UN force and only agreed to approve an extension of the AU force.

The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003 when anti- government forces accused the government of marginalizing the region and took up arms against it.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and up to 2.5 million others displaced as a result of the turmoil.

Source: Xinhua

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