The first armoured personnel carriers (APCs) intended to enhance the peacekeeping capabilities of the African Union (AU) forces are expected to arrive in the western Sudanese region of Darfur on Friday, according to an AU official.
Noureddine Mezni, spokesman of the AU in Khartoum, said on Tuesday that the Sudanese authorities had authorised the deployment of 105 APCs donated by the government of Canada.
"The first three or four APCs will arrive in El Fasher [the capital of North Darfur] on 18 November with a direct flight from Dakar [the capital of Senegal]," Mezni said, adding that it would take a month for all of the APCs to arrive in Darfur.
Following recent attacks on AU troops that killed four soldiers, the Sudanese government had come under international pressure to allow the rapid deployment of the vehicles.
"They will be very useful for the protection of AU forces, for the protection of civilians and to enhance the protection of humanitarian convoys," Mezni noted. "They will also enhance the flexibility of our operations."
Mezni added that the APCs would become operational as soon as they arrived, as some AU crew had already been trained in Senegal. "They are fully ready to use the APCs," he said.
On Friday, Baba Gana Kingibe, head of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS), said the international community needed to provide the necessary equipment and funding in order for AU troops to be more effective in Darfur.
"The operation in Darfur is AU-led with AU troops on the ground. But this is a collaborated international effort. We are in this together with the international partners, together with the United Nations, with everybody playing their part. If we fail or succeed, we sink or swim together," Kingibe told IRIN.
With regard to the recent abductions and killings of AU troops, Kingibe warned that there was "only so much provocation" the soldiers would tolerate.
"These attacks are a grave mistake. They will test the patience of AU troops because they cannot continue to have their hands tied in the back and watch their comrades take hits day in and day out. Human nature will eventually come into play," cautioned Kingibe.
He added that he hoped the AU troops would be disciplined enough to work according to the rules of engagement but that those leading the rebel groups needed to take control.
"I urge the commanders of the armed militia and the SLM/A [the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement/Army] to give very stern instructions to how their militia react and deal with AU troops," Kingibe urged. "We will continue to show restraint, but we need cooperation in order to ensure that this bridge is never crossed."
The AU ambassador observed that the amount of troops - currently around 6,800 - or the adoption of a new mandate were less important than the success of the Darfur peace talks in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
"At the end of the day, it does not matter if you have 50,000 or 100,000 troops. You need the cooperation of all the Sudanese parties. If they do not want peace and continue to see AU troops as an impediment to their goals then there will continue to be complications," he noted.
"We need to ask ourselves, why did the rebellion start in the first place? I think we are losing focus of that," he added.
"The people of Darfur have suffered enough. They have been uprooted. They have been living on handouts from IDP [internally displaced persons] camps. This is a very demeaning existence, and if they are working in the interest of their people it is about time they button up."
The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003 when the two main rebel groups, the SLM/A and the Justice and Equality Movement took up arms to fight what they called the discrimination and oppression of the region by the Sudanese government. The government is accused of unleashing militia - known as the Janjawid - on civilians in an attempt to quash the rebellion.
According to the UN, the conflict continues to affect some 3.3 million people, of whom 1.8 million are internally displaced and 200,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad.