Sudan leader's commitment to Darfur plan in doubt

The UN Security Council welcomed the Sudanese president's commitment to a UN plan to help end the escalating conflict in Darfur culminating in the deployment of a "hybrid" African Union-United Nations force - but minutes later Sudan's UN ambassador flatly ruled out any UN peacekeeping troops in Darfur. The ambassador's comments Wednesday to reporters at the end of a Security Council meeting to discuss President Omar al-Bashir's letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan supposedly endorsing the UN's three-step package raised serious questions about the Sudanese leader's commitment to Annan's plan for a hybrid force. Annan had told the Sudanese president in a letter earlier this month that every effort would be made to find African troops for a hybrid force of 17,300 military personnel and 5,300 police, but if that proved impossible the UN would use "a broader pool of troop contributing countries." Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem told reporters on Wednesday that the hybrid force must be smaller and have no UN peacekeepers in traditional blue helmets, only African troops supported by UN technical and logistical experts.