Foreign Minister Peter MacKayis meeting with delegates in Paris on Monday at an international conference aimed at speeding upthe deployment of peacekeeping troops in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

MacKay is to join foreign ministers from 18 other nations, along with the heads of several international organizations, including the United Nations and the Arab League andthe World Bank.

The goal is to reach consensus on what needs to be done to resolve the conflict, which has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people and forced millions to live as refugeessince it began in 2003.

The UN and western governments had pressed Sudan for months to accept a plan for a large joint force of 20,000 UN and African Union peacekeepers to replace the overwhelmed 7,000-strong African force now in Darfur.

Sudan initially accepted the hybrid peacekeeping plan in November but then backtracked, before finally agreeing earlier this month.

Neither the Sudanese government nor rebel groups are participating in the conference.

World failing Darfur: Rice

The meeting comes as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the international community is failing the people of Darfur.

"I have seen first-hand the devastation and the difficult circumstances in which people live in Darfur, and I will be very frank," Rice said Mondayafter meeting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Paris.

"I do not think that the international community has really lived up to its responsibilities there."

Rice also warned Sudan's government not to renege on its agreement on thedeployment of thepeacekeeping force.

The one-day conference was organized by a new French government, which has made the four-year conflict in Darfur a top priority.

Kouchner, a longtime humanitarian crusader, said the meeting was not about peacemaking but about unifying international resources to act fast.

Details about the composition, mandate and timetable of the joint force are expected to top discussions at Monday's meetings.

More than 200,000 people have died in the Darfur region of western Sudan and 2.5 million have become refugees since 2003, when local rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect.

Sudan's government is accused of unleashing in response a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed — a charge Sudan denies.

With files from the Associated Press