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The region has been gripped by ethnic fighting since February 2003

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The proposal is for the deployment of a 23,000-strong peace-keeping force to replace the current 7,000 African Union soldiers in the region.

 

"That will facilitate a humanitarian assistance," Ban said.

  

Ban, who is due to travel to Khartoum next week to meet with Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, said he hoped the government would agree to the proposal for a joint force in talks scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

 

Pressure

 

The US this week stepped up pressure on Khartoum, warning that the government would face fresh sanctions unless it accepted UN plans to deploy up to 23,000 peacekeepers in Darfur.

  

The region has been gripped by ethnic fighting since February 2003 when Khartoum enlisted the help of Arab militia to put down a rebellion.

  

The UN says up to 200,000 people have been killed and another 2.5 million displaced in the conflict. Khartoum insists the figures are far lower.

  

Some 7,000 African peacekeepers have been deployed in Darfur but have failed to stem the bloodshed.

  

"The Darfur situation is the highest priority of my agenda as Secretary General of the United Nations," Ban said.

 

"And I have been devoting most of my time and energy in resolving this issue. You have my full commitment to this issue," he said.