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IN THE NEWS - Future of Peacekeeping in Darfur Remains an Unsettled Question

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

An African Union soldier in Darfur
An African Union soldier in Darfur

Debate continued this week over what will happen at the end of the month when African Union peacekeepers may leave Darfur.

The African Union has a seven-thousand member force in the Darfur area of western Sudan. But violence has continued, and African Union officials say the force is lacking in money.

The United Nations has called on the government of Sudan to let a U.N. force replace the peacekeepers. Last month, the Security Council approved a resolution for twenty thousand U.N. troops and police to take over the operation.

But Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir opposes a U.N. force. On Thursday, he accused the United Nations of plans to "recolonize" Sudan.

Sudanese officials say African Union peacekeepers are welcome to stay -- but not as part of a U.N force. The government has said it will fight any U.N. forces that enter Darfur.

African Union officials plan to meet in New York on Monday. They will talk more about their decision to withdraw their soldiers from Darfur at the end of the month.

Leaders of a rebel group that signed a peace agreement in May have said they will renew fighting if the troops leave and are not replaced.

Fighting in Darfur began in two thousand three when local farmers rebelled. They accused the government of unfair treatment. Since then, an estimated two hundred thousand people have died in fighting between rebels and government-supported Arab Janjaweed fighters.

Estimates of the number killed by war and disease are as high as four hundred fifty thousand. More than two million people have been displaced from their homes.

Government troops recently launched a new offensive against rebel groups that refused to sign the peace agreement in May.

United Nations officials have warned that aid groups may have to leave Darfur because of the worsening security. The World Food Program estimated this week that more than three hundred fifty thousand people in north Darfur have gone without food aid for three months.

On Thursday, American U.N. Ambassador John Bolton led a special Security Council meeting on Darfur. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel said there must be an international force in Darfur -- if Sudan agrees or not. The Nazi Holocaust survivor compared the situation to Rwanda, where intervention came too late to stop the killings in nineteen ninety-four.

Another speaker, actor George Clooney, also appealed for action. He visited Darfur in April. He called the conflict "the first genocide of the twenty-first century."

But the ambassador of Qatar, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, dismissed the idea of an actor advising what to do in Darfur. And he criticized those who blame the Sudanese government instead of the rebels for the conflict. Qatar is currently the only Arab member of the council. Reuters news agency said the ambassador also accused the United States of using the Darfur issue for political gain.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.

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