Questions have emerged about UN chief Kofi Annan's announcement that Sudan had accepted in principle a hybrid African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission for its troubled Darfur region.
The late Thursday announcement here took many by surprise as Khartoum has repeatedly and vehemently rejected any UN role in Darfur and insisted that only the current AU force can operate there.
Diplomats and observers who attended the Annan-led talks that led to the apparent compromise said Khartoum's stance was not entirely clear, as Sudanese officials repeated that no UN peacekeepers would be allowed on the ground.
One diplomat said Sudan had succeeded in preventing the world body from playing a significant role by agreeing to UN logistical and technical support for the AU mission known as AMIS but ruling out all but African personnel.
"It was a victory for Sudan, which has won a commitment that the command of the peacekeeping force will never be with the UN," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "Sudan remains in a position of force."
"For the moment, there is no guarantee of any major progress, except that everyone, even the Chinese and the South Africans, support it," the diplomat said, referring to the "hybrid" force concept promoted by Annan.
"The whole question is what the Sudanese want: either they want peace and should accept this since we're no longer talking about a UN operation or they are stalling, hoping AMIS will leave and give them a military option," he said.
The compromise proposal is to be presented soon to the UN Security Council and will also be discussed at a summit of leaders from the 15 members of the AU Peace and Security Council set for November 24 in Congo-Brazzaville.
The three-phase plan aims to boost the cash-strapped and undermanned AMIS with major UN support while the third phase envisions merging the force with a UN mission that will be predominantly African, according to the agreement.
In his announcement, Annan made clear that Khartoum had agreed only "in principle" to phase three, "pending clarification of the size of the force."
Sudanese officials firmly insist that no UN peacekeepers will be deployed in Darfur, where some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced in three years of fighting between local rebels and government-backed militia.
"The whole approach is to support AMIS with logistic support," said Sudan's UN ambassador Abdulmahmoud Abduhaleem. "The UN is saying they want to deploy 17,000 troops, we say it should be less, and only African troops under an African command.
"There will be no UN peacekeepers in Darfur," he said.
One international observer who was at Thursday's meeting in Addis Ababa said the Sudanese would likely take a great deal of time in determining an acceptable force level, possibly waiting for Annan's year-end departure.
"The Sudanese have no interest in conceding knowing that Kofi Annan is about to leave," the observer said on condition of anonymity. "They are playing for show."
Still, AU Peace and Security Council commissioner Said Djinnit said the African Union was pleased that a potential solution to its mission's funding and manpower woes had been reached.
"All the parties fell into agreement on the compromise formula, except for Sudan on certain points," he said.
"Through this plan we will now be able to ensure lasting and appropriate financing for AMIS without which it would not have been able to work if we waited much longer," Djinnit said. "The credibility of Africa goes from there."
BBC World Service broadcasts to Juba in Southern Sudan and surrounding areas in Arabic on 90.0 FM and in English on 88.2 FM. In Northern Sudan: Khartoum 91.0 FM, Al Ubayyid 91.0 FM, Port Sudan 91.0 FM and Wad Madani 91.5 FM.
“Violence will bring no victory. For the sake of the Darfur civilians, all parties to the conflict have to stop resorting to violence. This is the absolute priority.” - Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, 05 June 2009
"APPREHENSION" by Rob Rooker. Painted on a wall in Maridi, Sudan. The image is of a young Nuer boy looking up among a crowd of people. Click on image for more details. Cards & prints of Rob's paintings can be purchased online at Imagekind.com