updated 9/26/2006 3:14:40 PM ET 2006-09-26T19:14:40

The United Nations and Sudan are discussing the deployment of U.N. military advisers to reinforce African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, in a possible compromise in their standoff over the war-torn region, officials from both sides said Tuesday.

Sudan has fiercely opposed allowing a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur, despite resolutions from the Security Council that call for one. Khartoum instead has urged a strengthening of the African force already there.

But Baha Elkoussy, a U.N. spokesman in Sudan, said the two sides were negotiating over sending U.N. advisers “to facilitate the deployment of the AU.”

“There are ongoing discussions to provide the AU force with support, pending a future decision from the U.N. Security Council,” he told The Associated Press.

He would not elaborate. But other U.N. officials in Sudan, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the proposal was to send more than 100 U.N. military advisers and dozens of police and civilians to reinforce the AU mission.

The Sudanese government’s top official on Darfur, Majzoub al-Khalifa, suggested in an interview that Khartoum was willing to accept such a compromise.

“There is a third way ... why not let the U.N. place its men, command expertise and material at the service of the AU mission,” al-Khalifa said.

Elkoussy said U.N. personnel were ready to be sent to Darfur in the coming weeks “as soon as there is a solid agreement with the (Sudanese) government.”

Overpowered in Darfur
The African Union’s 7,000-member force has long been overwhelmed in Darfur, too short-staffed and under-equipped to prevent violence from increasing in the vast region of western Sudan, where some 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes since 2003.

The AU plans to increase its peacekeeping force, but the United Nations has been pushing Khartoum to allow the world body to take over the mission and beef up the force to some 20,000 troops. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has refused, calling a U.N. deployment a U.S.-led ploy to recolonize Sudan.

The Darfur conflict erupted in 2003 when mainly ethnic African rebel groups, complaining of discrimination by the Arab-dominated government, launched their revolt. The government responded with a military assault, and pro-government militias known as the janjaweed launched a campaign of violence against villages.

The U.N. chief of humanitarian affairs in Darfur chief, Manuel Aranda da Silva, said a recent Sudanese government offensive and a spate of attacks by rogue rebel groups have left relief organizations with less access to the suffering in Darfur than at any point in the war in the devastated region.

“There have been new, huge difficulties and aid groups have had to pull out from large areas,” he told AP late Monday.

Aid workers killed
Eleven aid workers have been killed in the last three months, all Sudanese nationals, and more than 25 vehicles stolen at gunpoint, mostly by rebels, he said.

“We have to reconfigure our means of assistance — becoming less present on the ground,” da Silva said. He said relief workers would rely more on helicopters, partnerships with community leaders and small units briefly stopping in villages for emergency help.

The U.N. says 100,000 people have been displaced by violence since May. Da Silva said half of those fled in September, when the Sudanese army began a large offensive against rebels in North Darfur province, one of three that make up the region.

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