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AU Summit Extends Peacekeeping in Darfur

03 July 2006

African leaders meeting at an African Union summit in Gambia on Sunday agreed to extend the mandate of their peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur region until at least December. The summit also endorsed Senegal's decision to try Chad's former dictator Hissene Habre on war crimes charges.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan failed to convince Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to allow U.N. peacekeepers to replace the seven-thousand AU forces trying to protect civilians in Sudan's western Darfur region till September. Sudan maintains it does not need an international intervention by the U.N.

But Mr. Annan, speaking on the last day of the summit Sunday, said the talks with Sudan will continue. He said is optimistic U.N. peacekeepers in time will be deployed in Darfur.

"I, of course, will continue to press for the eventual deployment of U.N. forces in Darfur. On this point we agreed that the dialogue had to continue," Mr. Annan says. "In the meantime, President Bashir said he would prepare a plan for the next six months, which he would submit to me by the end of the month."

Meanwhile, AU leaders agreed to a United Nations request to extend the AU peacekeeping operations in Darfur until the end of the year.

In a separate development, the AU leaders endorsed Senegal's decision to try former Chadian President Hissene Habre in Senegal where he has been living in exile since being deposed in 1990.

Habre's regime was accused by a Chadian truth commission of killing tens of thousands of people during its eight years in power.

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade said he will ask parliament to change the nation's law so that Habre can be tried in Senegal. It is unclear when the actual trial will begin.

But human rights campaigners welcomed the news. Human Rights Watch's Reed Brody told reporters this is a major achievement for justice.

"I think this is a victory of law over politics. You have two legal bodies, one the U.N. Committee against Torture, and the other this expert panel from the African Union, who have both said to Senegal 'Look, this is your responsibility. You signed the torture convention," Brody says. "You ratified it and said if an alleged torturer came onto your territory, you would not give that person safe haven.' Hissene Habre is a man accused of systematic torture, of thousands of political killings, of campaigns of ethnic cleansing. And what the African leaders said today is someone like that has to be brought to justice."

Mr. Annan also said at the AU summit he will travel to war-divided Ivory Coast Wednesday to hold talks with President Laurent Gbagbo. Under a U.N.-backed agreement, Ivory Coast is supposed to hold elections in October, but many U.N.-staff members privately express skepticism the elections will take place as scheduled.

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