another un failure

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    The African Union (AU) has issued a 24 hour deadline to the Sudanese Government and Darfur rebels to end fighting, after a massive military build-up in the region over the past two weeks.

    The AU says huge quantities of arms have poured into Sudan's vast desert region of Darfur and that the Government is poised for a major military offensive.

    The AU is brokering peace talks to end a conflict that has displaced 1.6 million people and killed tens of thousands.

    It says it will report any further cease-fire violations to the United Nations (UN) Security Council for action.

    But the Sudanese government delegation says the decision was not binding on Khartoum.

    The AU commander in Darfur, Nigerian General Festus Okonkwo, says his efforts to mediate between government troops and rebels have yielded minimal results and the region is now a "timed bomb that could explode at any moment".

    "The quantity of arms and ammunition brought into Darfur to meet [the needs of] the present build-up of troops in the region is [so] astronomical that the issue is no longer whether there will be fighting or not, but when fighting will start," he said.

    Offensive

    General Okonkwo heads an AU team of 834 cease-fire monitors in Darfur.

    He says a Sudanese brigade, which normally numbers 600 to 700 troops, advanced towards Labado in southern Darfur on Thursday, backed by about 200 militiamen.

    "From a military point of view, this indicates an offensive which if launched would be prejudicial to the peace process," he said.

    General Okonwo's assessment was delivered to AU-sponsored peace talks in Abuja. The talks were suspended last Monday by the rebels, who accused the Government of launching an offensive.

    UN secretary-general Kofi Annan says that if Mr Okonwo's assessment is true, "it is a major violation of the cease-fire".

    "I hope the Government will refrain from any action of that kind," Mr Annan told a news conference in Brussels.

    Very, very concerned

    US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We have been very, very concerned about the violence recently, the violence from both sides.

    "We have re-emphasised the need for the parties to engage in peace talks."

    In London, a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said British officials had told the Sudanese Foreign Ministry that "Sudan is in breach of three UN Security Council resolutions and that the fighting must stop".

    After years of tribal skirmishes over scarce resources in arid Darfur, the rebels took up arms last year.

    They accuse Khartoum of neglect and of using 'Janjaweed' Arab militias to loot and burn non-Arab villages. Khartoum denies arming the Janjaweed and calls them outlaws.

    The United Nations has said Darfur is suffering from one of the world's worst humanitarian crises with 2.3 million people in need of aid.

    -Reuters

    Dave R.
 
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