BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – Officials said the European Union will provide up to $125 million to back African peacekeepers in Darfur, as the United Nations warned Friday that crucial relief convoys are in danger.

Gunmen in Darfur are attacking relief convoys, civilians and African villagers, the U.N.’s World Food Program said in a statement Friday. “The security situation in all three states of Darfur remains highly volatile, with road closures because of insecurity cutting into WFP’s ability to provide food,” it said.

Nonetheless, the agency said, it delivered 12,196 tons of food, enough to feed some 632,000 people since the beginning of October.

Some 1.2 million people in Darfur rely on food from the U.N. agency.

Britain’s minister for Africa, Chris Mullin, said security must be restored quickly to enable refugees to return for the planting season that begins in March.

“If we go past that and there are still people in the camps, then the crisis is going to last for much longer and is going to require large amounts of international aid,” Mullin said during a visit to neighboring Kenya.

EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana was expected to announce the European offer to cover around half the costs of the expanded African Union mission on Saturday during talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council agreed Wednesday to increase its peacekeeping force in Darfur from 390 to 3,320 troops and civilian police. The one-year operation is to cost $220 million, mainly paid for by the EU and the United States, according to council head Said Djinnitl.

“This is a major chance to improve the situation,” EU spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said of the mission. “It can be decisive.”

The enhanced African Union force led by Rwandan troops should be in place early next month.

Solana was flying to the Ethiopian capital on Friday for talks with African Union and Ethiopian officials. He planned to meet Sunday with Sudanese leaders in Khartoum.

At least 70,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million displaced by the crisis, which began in February 2003 when two rebel groups took up arms over alleged unjust treatment by the Sudanese government and ethnic Arab countrymen. Pro-government militias called Janjaweed reacted by unleashing attacks on Darfur villages.

The EU funding still needs final approval from the bloc’s 25 member nations, but officials said governments had already indicated they would grant approval. The EU has already provided $15 million for the monitoring mission.

Officials said the United States, Canada and Australia had also offered to help fly the African peacekeepers into Darfur. Much of the EU’s financial assistance would go to providing rations, shelter and fuel for the force, officials said.

The African Union force will include 450 unarmed military observers, a major increase from the 80 currently deployed to monitor a shaky cease-fire.

An armed security force of 310 troops has been protecting the observers. That force will be increased to 2,341. The new one-year mission will also include 815 civilian police officers and 164 civilian staff.

On Friday, the U.N. food agency warned that, “if insecurity persists or worsens, WFP may not be able to feed as many people as it hoped to reach in October.”

It said violence has forced it and partner organizations to delay food deliveries to some areas and completely stop them to others, pending U.N. security assessments.

“We fear that if the situation is not stabilized soon in Darfur, we could see tens of thousands more refugees cross the border into Chad, where resources are already stretched to the breaking point,” said U.N. refugee agency spokesman Rupert Colville.

AP-ES-10-22-04 1634EDT



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