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Darfur UN forces increase ranks

After months of delays in attempting to reinforce UN peacekeeping troops in the Darfur region, 1,600 troops will join the mission as part of plans to deploy 80% of the force.

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KHARTOUM - About 1,600 troops will join Darfur's U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in June as part of plans to deploy 80 percent of the force by the end of the year, the head of the mission said on Wednesday.

Four months after assuming peacekeeping responsibilities in Sudan's lawless west, the force has deployed only one third of its planned strength and failed to prevent attacks that are hindering the world's largest aid operation.

"We are expecting one battalion from Ethiopia and one battalion from Egypt ... in June," Rodolphe Adada told reporters in Khartoum.  He said deployment of the peacekeeping force had been delayed because many of the African troops pledged did not have the equipment required by the United Nations and which Western nations had agreed to provide.

Western nations blame the Sudanese government for the delays because Khartoum rejected non-African troops such as contingents from Thailand and Nepal. Adada said the delays were not all Sudan's fault.

He said rules covering the operations of the joint force had been agreed and "we can say that there is no impediment now from the political side from the government of Sudan".  Adada said he was confident that once the first African troops had deployed, the non-Africans would soon follow.

"We have to start by deploying African troops," he said. "We think that we will have then the other troops come in including the Thai and Nepalese and non-African troops," he added.

Adada said he hoped 80 percent of the force would deploy by year end. At full strength, the largest U.N.-funded peacekeeping mission in the world will be more than 26,000 police and troops.

"We are sure that by the end of this year we will have enough capabilities to fulfil our mission," he said. That includes protecting convoys of humanitarian aid going to more than 4 million Darfuris affected by the war.

Banditry forced the World Food Programme to cut rations for Darfuris by almost half in May.

International experts estimate 200,000 have died and 2.5 million driven from their homes in Darfur since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government of neglect. Khartoum says 10,000 have died.

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