Darfur: Aust troops may go

The former defence minister, speaking from New York, said Australia wanted to be involved in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Darfur that has led to more than 200,000 people killed and an estimated 2.5 million displaced.

“It’s going to be very challenging, very difficult but it is a major humanitarian issue and I think it is something the international community has got to engage in,” Mr Hill told The Australian newspaper.

“We have demonstrated that we want to be party to a multilateral solution. If the UN decided to (send) … a UN force, then it will no doubt make requests to member states for support and that would then be considered by Australia.”

Deadline passes

The senior US official negotiating a peace plan for Sudan’s Darfur region says he will continue talks on Wednesday, indicating that Tuesday’s deadline for an agreement would slip.

The government of Sudan has accepted an 85-page draft settlement but three Darfur rebel factions refuse to sign, saying they are unhappy with the proposals on security, power-sharing and wealth-sharing.

US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Britain’s International Development Secretary Hilary Benn held back-to-back meetings with the sides and observers said their involvement could jolt the rebels into accepting the peace plan.

Mediators say the rebels insist some of their demands, such as a vice president’s post and a regional government, be met in full although months of negotiations have shown compromises with Khartoum are necessary.

Mr Zoellick declined to say how long the talks might now last, noting his role was to try to bridge gaps between the sides. There was no immediate confirmation of the apparent changed deadline from the African Union (AU).

The 2300 GMT deadline, already put back by 48 hours, had been expected to slip as AU Chairman Denis Sassou Nguesso, the president of Congo Republic, and commission head Alpha Oumar Konare, were due to arrive in Abuja on Wednesday.

Observers say failure to get a deal would be disastrous. The rebels took up arms in early 2003 in ethnically mixed Darfur, an arid region the size of France, over what they saw as neglect by the Arab-dominated central government.

The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people while a campaign of arson, looting and rape has driven more than two million from their homes into refugee camps in Darfur and neighbouring Chad.

Sudan unstable

Meanwhile Sudan has topped a list of the world’s most unstable countries, while the positions of Iraq and Afghanistan also worsened.

Sudan was the most troubled country on the 2006 Failed States Index compiled by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace.

Five other African countries, Haiti and the three key fronts in the US “war on terror” filling out the top 10.

Democratic Republic of the Congo was second, followed by Ivory Coast, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Chad, Somalia, Haiti, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Asia’s Pakistan, North Korea, Burma, Bangladesh and Nepal were also in the top 20.

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