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UN chief sends top officials for Darfur talks

UN chief Ban Ki-moon is dispatching two top aides to discuss the make-up of a proposed UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur with the president of Sudan, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

UN Assistant Secretary General for peacekeeping operations Edmond Mulet and Ban's deputy chief of staff Kim Won-soo travel to Lisbon on Thursday to meet with Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir, spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

Bashir will be in the Portuguese capital attending a European Union-Africa summit this weekend.

The UN officials will try to persuade Beshir to lift his objections to UN plans to include soldiers from Nepal, Thailand and Scandinavian countries in an international peacekeeping force of 26,000 for Darfur. African soldiers are expected to make up the bulk of the force.

Getting the UN-African Union force off the ground has been beset by logistical problems, especially the world body's inability to get any of its member states to provide 24 helicopters for critical air mobility and firepower.

War in Sudan's western region of Darfur pits black ethnic groups against government troops backed by Arab militias. More than 200,000 people have been killed from fighting, famine and disease in the region since 2003, according to international organisations.