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Sudan Issues Peacekeeping Ultimatum

Sudan on Monday said African Union peacekeepers would have to leave Darfur unless they accept a deal within a week that would effectively block a proposed U.N. force.

Sudan's foreign minister said the AU troops, whose formal mandate runs out Sept. 30, can only stay on in the troubled western region if they accept Arab League and Sudanese funding.

Ali Ahmed Kerti gave the African body a week to respond to its offer or get its troops out of the country, a government statement said.

Sudan had earlier ordered the African Union troops out by the end's month after the AU insisted it would hand over its mandate to the United Nations but the ultimatum apparently marked a final attempt to keep the weak African force in Darfur.

Kerti said he made the offer at a meeting he called Monday with the African Union representative in Khartoum, Nigerian Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe.

"The foreign minister indicated to Kingibe that the Sudan has always advocated the presence of African force in Darfur, and sought funds for the maintenance of that presence," the statement said.

"The Arab League has offered support to cover the presence of the African Union forces after September 2006," he said.

Khartoum last week rejected a U.N. Security Council resolution for the deployment of some 20,000 U.N. troops and police in Darfur to replace the 7,000-strong AU force.

Instead it has launched a major attack reportedly involving thousands of troops and militias in the northern part of Darfur that rebels say are backed up by bomber aircraft.

The African Union has called for the U.N. to take control of the peacekeeping force, whose formal mandate expires on Sept. 30., but Khartoum is steadfastly opposed to the presence of the U.N. troops.

The ill-equipped and underfunded AU force of 7,000 troops has been unable to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, where three years of conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.

A May peace deal signed by the government and one of the three ethnic African rebel groups operating in the region has had little effect in halting the violence.

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