Kofi Annan sending top envoy to Sudan

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will dispatch a highly respected envoy and a top peacekeeping official to Sudan in efforts to persuade the government to allow a new peacekeeping force in Darfur , officials said Friday. The decision to dispatch Lakhdar Brahimi, Annan's envoy in Iraq and Afghanistan before retiring in December, comes as the Khartoum government has refused to grant visas so an assessment team can travel to Sudan to prepare for the United Nations force.

Earlier this week, the African Union agreed to transfer authority for its 7,300-troop peacekeeping force in Darfur to the United Nations in September. The underfunded, poorly equipped mission has been unable to end the suffering in Darfur , where fighting has killed nearly 200,000 people since 2003 and displaced 2 million people.

But Sudan 's government has sent mixed signals about whether it will allow the mission, even after it signed a peace deal with rebel forces in Darfur in early May. Brahimi will be accompanied by Hedi Annabi, the No. 2 peacekeeping official in the U.N., spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "They will be conducting consultations with the government of Sudan on the role the U.N. can play in the Darfur peace agreement," Dujarric said, reports the AP.