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CAIRO (Reuters) - Sudan is opposed to the unlimited extension of African Union (AU) peacekeeping troops in Darfur, a Sudanese official said on Monday.
He was speaking as top officials from the European Union and AU met in Addis Ababa to discuss ways of bolstering peacekeeping in Darfur, where a three-year conflict has killed roughly 200,000 people and displaced millions others.
But he said, "Sudan agrees that the African Union troops stay until the crisis is over, but not indefinitely."
He had been asked whether Khartoum would agree to an indefinite extension of AU troops in Darfur as a way of breaking a deadlock over the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers there.
Sudan has resisted international pressure to allow some 20,000 U.N. troops to replace a poorly funded, ill-equipped AU force of 7,000 in Darfur, in the west of the country.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has likened U.N. peacekeepers to an invasion force bent on regime change in Khartoum. Analysts say his government is also worried that some officials could be arrested on war crimes charges.
The mandate for African forces in Darfur expires at the end of the year, and European Commission aid chief Louis Michel said it needs increased United Nations support if it is to continue.
The EU is the biggest financial contributor to the AU mission in Darfur.
Aid officials and diplomats, fearing the possibility of a security vacuum in Darfur if African forces leave, have begun discussing an option for an enhanced African role in Darfur that has been dubbed 'AU-Plus'.
That would involve an extended mission, augmented by U.N. support, with greater policing power for African troops.
"The AU-Plus is a Sudanese demand. We want the AU force supported by more troops and logistics," Dabi's aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
His comments followed remarks by the head of the EU delegation in Sudan, Kent Degerfelt, that Khartoum seemed open to strengthening the African role with increased logistical and financial support from the United Nations.
MORTARS AND ARTILLERY
Violence in Darfur has increased since a peace deal was signed in May between the Sudanese government and one rebel group. The deal has fractured rebel groups and fuelled tensions as all sides try to make territorial gains ahead of possible international intervention.
Weekend clashes among rebel groups forced international aid agencies, except for the International Red Cross, to flee the Greida refugee camp in southern Darfur, a Western aid worker told Reuters.
"The fighting was about a mile from Greida. It was heavy fighting ... with mortars and artillery," the aid worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Guardian newspaper reported that up to 40 people were killed when fighters loyal to the Justice and Equality Movement attacked men from a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), which signed the peace deal.
But an AU spokesman in Khartoum, Noureddine Mezni, put the death toll at 11 people, including an elderly man, killed in factional fighting "that included elements from the Sudan Liberation Movement." The SLA is also known as the SLM.
He said unknown gunmen opened fire on a senior SLM official who was visiting Greida with field commanders "in the framework of the peace agreement." The official took cover at an AU position in the area, Mezni told Reuters.
Michel, the European Commission aid chief, said that
increased U.N. support was vital for the AU force's survival.
"In the current situation, the African Union cannot assume completely the job if it does not have an important contribution from the U.N.," he told reporters.
In Finland, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he understood that Bashir was close to accept the AU-Plus presence in Darfur, citing such a step as progress towards a genuine U.N. force in the region.
AU commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare also vowed on Monday not to abandon Darfur but said his force needed more international support if it was to continue its mission.
"Under no circumstance can we leave Darfur without peacekeeping forces. But we know we must strengthen our forces," he said in Addis Ababa.
(Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander in Addis Ababa and Brussels bureau)
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