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UN seeks cut in Darfur peacekeeping force


UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United Nations wants to cut more than 5,300 peacekeeping troops and police in Darfur even though the UN Security Council said Tuesday it remains concerned about conflict in the Sudanese region.

A plan to cut the African Union-UN force, which currently numbers about 23,500, was put to the Security Council by the head of UN peacekeeping Herve Ladsous.

He said the number of regular troops could be cut by 3,260. This was "due mainly to improvements in security along the Chad-Darfur border and far northern Darfur following rapprochements between Sudan and Chad and between Sudan and Libya."

About 1,500 air support, engineers and other logistics forces could be cut because of that. The UN proposed a 663 reduction in the police force of more than 5,300.

The United Nations has been seeking to reduce peacekeeping forces around the world. The Darfur plan will be discussed with the African Union in the weeks ahead of the annual renewal of the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) mandate in July.

Ladsous said the changes would allow savings of $76 million dollars in the 2012-2013 budget and of $135 million a year after that. UNAMID currently costs $1.5 billion a year.

UN officials say the aim of the change is to concentrate troops in areas where there is the most risk of violence.

After Security Council talks on the Darfur conflict, US ambassador Susan Rice said the 15 members "expressed concern about the continuing instability and escalating violence in Darfur and the humanitarian conditions."

Most of the rebel groups have returned to their guerrilla war against the Sudanese government after the breakdown of UN-AU attempts to secure a peace deal. A Togolese peacekeeper was killed in an ambush last Friday.

South Africa's UN ambassador Basqo Sangqu said there had to be consultations with the African Union before any decision. But Rice, the council president for April, said there had been no "broad-based concern or skepticism" about the changes.

"From the US point of view we are hardly sanguine about the security situation, we see that the violence is escalating in four of five regions of Darfur," she told reporters.

"Certainly from our point of view, I don't think it is correct to view it as a downsizing, but rather trying to align the personnel, resources and equipment on the ground with the needs as they are today, as opposed to when the force was originally mandated," she said.

The United Nations says that at least 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since an uprising against the Khartoum government erupted in 2003. The government puts the death toll at 10,000.

Despite persistent violence, Darfur has been overshadowed in recent months by the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan and the government's offensive against rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

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