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Russia and the EU will sign a cooperation agreement
Russia and the EU will sign a cooperation agreement for a joint peacekeeping operation in Chad and the Central African Republic, according to a joint communique released on Wednesday.

The document, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana at a meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, says Russia's participation in the operation will become an important step toward strengthening its interaction with the EU in crisis management.

The parties expressed their readiness to develop and adopt a framework agreement "in the spirit of equal partnership and cooperation."

On Monday, the foreign ministers of 27 EU member states approved a plan to send a peacekeeping mission to Chad and the Central African Republic. The contingent, comprising 3,700 servicemen from 14 EU countries, is to be deployed in May-early June.

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov earlier said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had resolved to send a helicopter group to assist an EU peacekeeping force in and along the African state's border with the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan.

The first unit of Russian peacekeepers arrived in Sudan in April 2006. The Russian aviation group in Sudan currently comprises 120 personnel and four Mi-8 helicopters reequipped to UN and international standards.

The group provides transport for UN military observers in Sudan, as well as transporting and accompanying cargoes. It also carries out rescue operations.

The Russian peacekeepers are expected to stay in Sudan for 5-6 years.

Chad gained independence from France in 1960. Since 2003, Chad and Sudan have accused each other of inciting conflict on their common border, especially in the west Sudanese region of Darfur.

According to international estimates, over 200,000 people have been killed and around 2.5 million displaced in the ongoing conflict.

Last month, Sudan and Chad signed an agreement in Senegal aimed at stopping hostilities between the two countries, but rebels on both sides dismissed the document as worthless.

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