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Thursday, June 14, 2007

China welcomes Darfur agreement

BEIJING - China, one of Sudan's biggest backers, has welcomed its acceptance of a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force for the country's troubled Darfur region

A Sudanese diplomat in Ethiopia confirmed on Wednesday that Sudan has accepted the mission after receiving assurances that a "hybrid" AU-U.N. force of 17,000 to 19,000 troops will not be open-ended and Sudan will remain in control of its borders.

"China welcomes the deployment of a hybrid AU-UN force in Darfur and the joint statement," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement posted on the ministry's Web site late Wednesday.

"The facts have shown that dialogue and equal negotiation is an effective approach to political solution of the Darfur issue, and the consultation between AU, UN and Sudan is an effective mechanism," Qin said.

China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports, sells the African country weapons and military aircraft, and has blocked efforts to send U.N. peacekeeping forces to Darfur without Sudanese consent.

But its involvement in Sudan is becoming a liability as the country tries to portray itself as a responsible power while welcoming the world to the 2008 Olympics, a massive source of national pride.

In what appeared to be a response to international pressure, China recently appointed a special representative for Africa to focus on Darfur, and has publicly urged Khartoum to give the U.N. a greater role in trying to resolve the conflict.

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when local rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudanese leaders are accused of unleashing the pro-government Arab militia, the janjaweed, to fight them — a charge they deny.

Westerners have been skeptical about any commitment from Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir because he has repeatedly backtracked on promises to move forward on Darfur.