AU force set to enter Darfur

The first half of a 300-strong African Union (AU) protection force is to be airlifted into Sudan's western Darfur region, to help observe a ceasefire between rebel groups and the government.

    Khartoum and the rebels have agreed to talks on 23 August

    The deployment comes as African mediators are struggling to negotiate an end to the armed conflict in Darfur.

    According to the UN the fighting has already claimed between 30,000 and 50,000 lives while the Sudanese government strongly disputes the figures and has requested the UN produce evidence regarding the claims.

    "The African Union and the Rwandan government, with the support of the Netherlands, are ready to deploy the AU force in Al-Fashir (capital of North Darfur state), directly from Kigali, on 14 August as planned," said an official at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

    "Everything is going as planned," said the official.

    A spokesman for the Rwandan army, Patrick Karegeya, said there would be an official ceremony for the troops' departure from Kigali.

    Limited mission

    The peacekeeping force, consisting of 150 Rwandan and 150 Nigerian soldiers, is tasked only with protecting a team of AU observers monitoring the 8 April ceasefire between Darfur rebels and the Khartoum government.

    "We believe that the task of keeping peace and protecting civilians is exclusively a Sudanese responsibility"

    Spokesperson for Khartoum 

    Rebels are said to have walked out on peace talks on more than one occasion and are held responsible for inciting and maintaining lawlessness in the Darfur region. Khartoum also says the rebels are exploiting the situation for political gain.

    The Rwandan troops are to be airlifted by the Netherlands to the region on Saturday, to be followed by Nigerian soldiers no later than 25 August.

    The Sudanese government has welcomed the small peacekeeping force. But it voiced opposition this week to plans by the 53-member AU to expand the contingent into a 2000-strong peacekeeping force.

    The AU's current chair, Nigeria, warned Sudan on Thursday that unless it allowed AU peacekeepers and diplomats to resolve the conflict it would face pressure from outside the continent.

    A Sudanese government spokesperson responded on Friday by saying the only decisions the AU had taken on Darfur confined the AU's role to monitoring and verifying respect of the 8 April ceasefire agreement, which was brokered by the government in neighbouring Chad.

    "We believe that the task of keeping peace and protecting civilians is exclusively a Sudanese responsibility," he added.

    SOURCE: AFP


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