After talks between Sudan's president and a Security Council delegation on Tuesday, the foreign minister, Lam Akol, said Sudanese officials would meet a joint UN-African Union team, due in Sudan this week, to evaluate any future force's needs.

"We are going in the right direction," Akol said. He also said: "The government of Sudan has nothing against the UN."

The 15-member delegation arrived in Khartoum on Monday as part of efforts to persuade Sudanese leaders to accept a UN peacekeeping mission to replace the current under-strength AU force in the war-torn western region.

Mustafa Osman Ismai, an adviser to Omar al-Bashir, the president, told the Sudanese news agency on Tuesday that the visit to Sudan "can give a chance to members of the Security Council to get acquainted with the real situation on the ground in Sudan instead of depending on media reports or even on diplomacy alone".

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch published a report urging the Security Council promptly to "secure Sudan's consent for a UN force in Darfur".

Conditional agreement

Peter Takirambudde, the organisation’s Africa director, said: "The need for a strong international force in Darfur to deter attacks on civilians and secure the Chad-Sudan border is greater than ever.

"A robust force to protect civilians could help end three years of war crimes in Darfur, but only if it's given the means to do so."

Last month, Sudan initiated discussions of a possible deployment of UN troops but said no troops would be dispatched alongside the existing AU contingent without the government’s agreement.

There are about 7,000 AU troops in Darfur, but Western pressure has mounted on Khartoum to allow UN troops to be deployed after a peace deal was signed in Nigeria on May 5.

On Thursday, the delegation is to travel to Juba in southern Sudan, a region at peace since January 2005 when an accord ended 20 years of civil war.

After a night in Khartoum, it was to head to El Fasher in Darfur on Friday before going on to visit Chad, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.