KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan will accept U.N. attack helicopters in its Darfur region as part of a support package for the African Union force struggling to maintain peace in its vast west, Foreign Minister Lam Akol said on Monday.
The United Nations wanted to deploy helicopters in Darfur as part of the second phase of a three-phased plan that would ultimately involve some 20,000 U.N. troops and police.
Sudan has allowed phase one of the plan, a light support package of equipment, police, civilian staff and advisers, but had balked at phase two -- the heavy support interim package.
That phase called for the deployment of 3,000 U.N. personnel and equipment -- including six attack helicopters.
Akol said on Monday Khartoum would now accept the helicopters, and had thus fulfilled the commitments it made to the United Nations during talks in Addis Ababa in November.
"I can now say that Sudan has given its complete agreement to all that was discussed in Addis Ababa, and as such the path is open to the next steps, so that we can say that we have overcome the issue of peacekeepers in Darfur," Akol said.
Akol?s comments came after the Saudi Press Agency reported Sudan had reached a deal with the AU and the United Nations for African and U.N. deployment. There were no details and the United Nations said it had not received word of the deal.
Akol did not say whether "overcoming the issue of peacekeepers" meant the sides had agreed on a larger force.
But Akol told Reuters on Sunday while Sudan would accept however many African troops were needed to stabilise Darfur it would not accept the deployment of international forces.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told a news conference at the end of a visit to Sudan on Monday a U.N.-AU force was critical.
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