CAIRO: French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy conferred with Egyptian officials Sunday ahead of a trip to Khartoum aimed at finding a compromise with Sudan on the deployment of peacekeepers in Darfur.
The French diplomat held talks with Khartoum s Egyptian allies in a bid to explore new solutions after the Sudanese government made it clear it would reject a UN force in war-ravaged Darfur, We would like a UN command with an African general, Douste-Blazy said in Cairo before his meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.
Douste-Blazy s visit comes amid renewed international efforts to break the diplomatic deadlock over Darfur, where violence continues to rage after almost four years of conflict.
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Aug. 31 which calls for the deployment of up to 20,000 UN peacekeepers in Darfur, an area roughly the size of France in which under-funded and ill-equipped African Union monitors have failed to stabilise.
But Sudanese President Omar Al-Beshir s regime has consistently rejected the plan, branding it a US-engineered conspiracy aimed at invading his country and plundering its resources.
The row culminated last month with the expulsion of the world body s top envoy in Sudan, Ducth diplomat Jan Pronk. Officially, he was expelled for criticizing the regime s actions in Darfur.
A robust peacekeeping force in Darfur is seen as key to implementing any peace deal between Khartoum and the rebel groups who took up arms in 2003 to demand a greater share of the country s power and resources.
Washington, which has championed tough action against Khartoum and accuses Sudanese troops and allied militia of genocide in Darfur, appears to have softened its stance in recent weeks.
Khartoum has said it was willing to support an enlarged AU force.
Paris also stressed that discussions were still possible and hoped that Egypt and the Arab League could help find a solution.
There is a softening of positions on both sides right now, a French diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington still wanted UN involvement in the Darfur force, but he did not reiterate past US insistence the peacekeepers be deployed formally under the world body s banner.
“We re taking a look at how we can address the various concerns that have come up from the Sudanese government, as well as others in the region, about the nature of this international force, McCormack said.
Cairo has deployed maximum efforts to mediate with Khartoum and avoid Western sanctions on its southern neighbor, whose stability is crucial to Egypt s access to Nile waters.
Douste-Blazy is expected in Sudan later Sunday, where he is scheduled to meet Beshir and Foreign Minister Lam Akol.
He is due to travel to the western region of Darfur on Monday.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected in Addis Ababa on Thursday to hold talks with African Union officials on the situation in Darfur.
The combined effect of fighting and famine in Darfur has left at least 200,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced.