updated 9/21/2006 6:15:18 AM ET 2006-09-21T10:15:18

An African Union peacekeeping force will remain in Darfur through the end of the year, but human rights groups said the agreement didn’t go nearly far enough to help the millions of people suffering in the region.

The deal reached on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly session Wednesday was a compromise by the African Union, which had hoped to turn over control for peacekeeping in Darfur to the United Nations when the mission’s current mandate expires Sept. 30.

According to the new agreement, the United Nations will lend material and logistical support to the AU mission, which has been hobbled by equipment and cash shortfalls. The Arab League has also agreed to provide funding, said Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, head of the AU Peace and Security Council.

Amnesty International said the extension of the AU force was not sufficient.

“It is the absolute minimum of what is required to protect the people of Darfur and must be replaced, as soon as possible, with a strong U.N. peacekeeping force,” Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said in a statement

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution last month that would expand the mission from 7,000 to more than 20,000 troops and give it new authority to protect civilians.

But Sudan’s government vehemently opposes the introduction of U.N. forces in Darfur, where fighting between rebels and government-backed militias has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million since 2003. The United Nations has called it the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and the United States has labeled the attacks genocide.

No humanitarian disaster?
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir denies there is a major humanitarian disaster in Darfur and said Tuesday that death rates there were no worse than anywhere else in Sudan. He said he would not allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur under any circumstances.

Compaore said the AU was still trying to win al-Bashir’s consent to a U.N. force, which is necessary for the Security Council resolution’s demands to be carried out. He has claimed that Western powers want to use a U.N. peacekeeping mission as a way to divide and weaken Sudan.

“We are working toward improving the relationship between the Sudan and the United Nations in this and to ensure peace in that area,” Compaore said.

When al-Bashir left about halfway through the meeting Wednesday, he did not comment, except to shout “No!” when a reporter asked if he would allow the U.N. to take control of the peacekeeping in Darfur.

The peacekeeping force is meant to help enforce a May peace agreement signed by the government and one of the major rebel groups in Darfur. Diplomats said the new U.N. force would mirror a U.N. peacekeeping mission monitoring a separate peace deal between Sudan’s government and rebels in the south.

If the Security Council resolution were to take effect, the southern force would be joined with the peacekeeping effort in Darfur to form one large U.N. mission in Sudan.

Undersecretary-General Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N. peacekeeping chief, welcomed the AU decision and said the United Nations would put forward proposals to help with logistics and support.

A U.N. official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the proposals have not been formally disclosed, said they would include airlifting supplies and troops, providing advisers and arranging contracts for food, fuel and water.

Pressure for the U.N. to take control has increased in recent months as diplomats have realized that the Darfur peace deal is not stopping the violence. Humanitarian groups say the fighting has only gotten worse.

The confrontation between al-Bashir’s government and the U.N. Security Council had briefly raised fears that the AU would leave Darfur entirely once its mandate expired on Sept. 30. Yet al-Bashir has backed down and now says the AU force should be allowed to remain for as long as necessary.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the council still hoped to get Sudan’s consent for a U.N. force, and warned that Khartoum would be held responsible if the crisis there gets worse and more people die. Her staff say that the World Food Program had delivered food for 2.4 million people in August.

“What we were hearing from the African Union mission itself was that they were finding increasing difficulty in capacity to carry out their mandate and felt that they could not continue and could not succeed,” Beckett told reporters. “So in effect they were saying we can’t carry on in this way.”

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