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UN: U.S. Presses For Peacekeeper Deployment To Darfur --> Rice will press to get peacekeepers on the ground as soon as possible (epa) PRAGUE, May 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to address the UN Security Council later today, where she is expected to urge the rapid deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to Darfur.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the United States, Great Britain, France, China, and Russia) are scheduled to hold talks later today in New York about a proposed UN peacekeeping mission for Darfur.

Raymond Ramazani Baya, foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose country currently holds the presidency of the African Union, is expected to attend the meeting together with the five permanent members.

The African Union has about 7,000 peacekeeping troops stationed in Darfur. The proposed UN mission of about 14,000 soldiers would take over the lead from the African Union.

'Accelerate Assistance'

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, stressed that Washington wants to move quickly on Darfur when he spoke to reporters at UN headquarters on May 8.

"We want the deployment of the UN peacekeeping force as soon as possible," he said. "But until you can get the planning done, you can't speed that date up. So the answer to accelerating the deployment depends on the pace at which the planning can take place. But I don't think there's any doubt we also want to accelerate the assistance to the [African Union Mission in Sudan] force to strengthen its hand while the transition continues."

The United States believes it is important to put UN peacekeepers on the ground as quickly as possible to enforce last week's landmark peace deal between Sudan's government and the main rebel group in the region.

At the same time, U.S. President George W. Bush has asked the U.S. Congress to speed approval for some $225 million in food aid to Sudan, following the signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the main rebel group aimed at ending a conflict that has killed at least 180,000 people and displaced 2 million since 2003.

China Blocking Pressure On Sudan

Complications are expected. China today remained noncommittal over the sending of peacekeepers. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a briefing in Beijing that China was interested in working with the international community on peace in Darfur. But he did not address the issue of peacekeepers.

China has previously used its veto power to block Security Council efforts to pressure the Sudanese regime over the Darfur conflict.

Last month Beijing abstained from a resolution ordering sanctions on four Sudanese, including a general and militia leader, blamed for bloodshed and rights abuses in Darfur.

China is one of the main purchasers of oil from Sudan and a major supplier of weapons to the Sudanese government. Russia, which also supplies arms to Sudan, also abstained from last month's vote.

But the biggest obstacle may come from the Sudanese government itself, which has until now resisted the idea of UN peacekeepers on its territory.