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Bush seeks more peacekeepers for Sudan

WASHINGTON—President Bush called Monday for more United Nations peacekeepers to help enforce a new peace accord for Sudan's Darfur region that he says offers "the beginnings of hope" toward ending a conflict that has killed an estimated 200,000 people and displaced 2 million more.

Bush praised Friday's U.S.-brokered accord between the government of Sudan in east-central Africa and the leading rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army; two smaller rebel groups refused to sign the pact. He repeated his call for Congress to approve $225 million in emergency food aid for Sudan.

The president also said he had ordered the emergency purchase of 44,000 tons of food and was dispatching five ships loaded with food to the region.

"We're still far away from our ultimate goal, which is the return of millions of displaced people to their homes so they can have a life without fear," Bush said. "But we can now see a way forward."

The president sees the agreement as the beginning of the end of a bloody 3-year-old conflict that the United States has called a genocide. It started when Darfur's African tribal villagers armed themselves against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in a battle for greater political rights.

The agreement calls for the Sudanese government to present a plan within 30 days to disarm the Arab militias known as the janjaweed, which clashed with the rebels and conducted a campaign of looting, arson and murder. The accord also calls for 4,000 rebel troops to be accepted into the national military and for 1,000 to join police forces.

To help enforce the peace, Bush administration officials want the number of African Union troops who patrol the region to increase to about 14,000 from 7,200 and want them placed under U.N. control.

"In the longer term, the African Union troops must be the core of a larger military force that is more mobile and more capable, which generates better intelligence and is given a clear mandate to protect the civilians from harm," Bush said.

The administration's handling of the Darfur situation won rare praise from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

"President Bush is to be commended for his efforts for the people of Darfur," Pelosi said in a written statement. "The achievement at the bargaining table in Abuja last week must not be diluted through inaction by the international community. The people of Darfur cannot afford for us to waste a moment."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to address the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday and request a resolution to accelerate the deployment of more peacekeepers to Darfur. Whether the Sudanese government will accept the U.N. force was unclear Monday. Bush said he had called Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, to urge his "government to express clear support for a U.N. force."

Despite the agreement, the situation remains tense in Darfur. U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland left a refugee camp there Monday when demonstrators who backed a U.N. peacekeeping force attacked a translator, charging that he was a janjaweed supporter. No one was injured in the melee.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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