Alliance should do more in Darfur, NATO chief says

NATO has been training officers of the 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur and providing planes to fly them into the region.

"NATO is ready and willing and able to continue to do what we are doing. NATO is ready and willing and able to take other steps," de Hoop Scheffer said during a visit to Lisbon,Portugal.

The United States has been pushing for a wider NATO role in the region. Washington has floated a proposal that would put an unspecified number of embedded trainers and other alliance specialists on the ground in Darfur in support of the AU force, but not in a front-line, combat role.

"I think NATO should do more, I think NATO can do more," de Hoop Scheffer said, without elaborating.

However, he added: "No NATO force on the ground, let's have no misunderstanding about that."

Many allies are wary of sending any significant number of European and North American troops, fearing it could inflame regional sensitivities - particularly if the mainly Muslim Sudanese government opposes a NATO deployment.

The ill-equipped AU force has failed to end violence that has left more than 180,000 people dead over the past three years and driven millions more from their homes, according to the AP.

The AU force is to transfer its peacekeeping role to a United Nations mission, though that could take several months.