Sudan agrees peace plan after Blair sets deadline

Sudan agreed to a five-point peace plan for the war-torn region of Darfur yesterday after Tony Blair set a three-month deadline for an end to the long-running conflict.

In talks with the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, Mr Blair demanded concrete action to fulfil promises to pull troops and militias out of the region and allow an African Union force to monitor a ceasefire between the warring parties.

Mr Blair ruled out British troops being sent to Darfur, but warned that sanctions could be imposed if Khartoum does not end the violence, which has left 50,000 people dead and forced 1.4 million from their homes.

Under the plan, the African Union would expand its force of ceasefire monitors from 350 to 3,500. The Sudanese government would also identify its forces in Darfur to allow monitors to check that hostilities have ceased.

Mr Blair also demanded that Khartoum act by the end of the year to negotiate a "comprehensive agreement" to end the long-running conflict between the government and rebels in the south of Sudan.

Yesterday, Britain announced it would send £100m in aid to Sudan next year, up from £62.5m this year, and said it would spend an extra £13m on helping to establish the African ceasefire monitoring force in Darfur.

Mr Blair insisted that African Union troops should be in place as soon as possible, despite warnings from the United Nations envoy, Jan Pronk, that it may be months before the full force can be deployed.

The Prime Minister said he had discussed the matter with US President George Bush and the UN Security Council.

He said: "It is important that the people of Darfur realise the international community is determined to assist in any way it can, that the government of Sudan adheres to its obligations and responsibilities, that the rebel forces likewise recognise they have responsibilities and that the international focus does not go away."

Mr Pronk warned that deployment of the AU force may be delayed by several months and raised the prospect of an international "bridging facility" to fill the gap. He said: "If they can only be deployed at the end of the year, the international community should think about a kind of bridging facility."

Mr Blair said Britain would offer logistical and financial help to the force, but insisted there was no support in the AU for British, American or European troops to help monitor the ceasefire in Darfur.

Mr Blair's visit, the first by a serving Prime Minister since Sudanese independence in 1956, came after Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, said Khartoum had made no progress in ending the violence.

Aid workers report wide-spread banditry, looting, rape and intimidation in the area amid widespread scepticism that Sudanese police are willing or able to prevent the violence.

But they said that humanitarian access to the province was improving.

Greg Barrow, of the World Food Programme, warned: "This crisis is going to continue through into the next year. The people in Darfur have not been able to plant their crops. They will be dependent on food aid."

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