Rwandan troops to be airlifted to Darfur

Rwandan troops will leave Kigali on Sunday for the troubled Darfur region of western Sudan, where they will serve in an African Union (AU) contingent being deployed to protect observers from the pan-African body, a Rwandan military spokesman told IRIN.

"The process of airlifting our forces will start on Sunday," Patrick Karegeya said. The 154 troops, who include 15 officers, would be flown to Al-Fashir in North Darfur, from the Rwandan capital, Kigali, he added.

The Netherlands government is expected to provide transport for the troops, Karegeya told IRIN in Kigali.

The AU force, comprising of troops from Rwanda and Nigeria, will be deployed to protect 120 observers across the war-ravaged region where conflict has displaced 1.2 million people and sent more than 180,000 into Chad.

The observers are tasked with supervising the implementation of a shaky ceasefire that was signed earlier in April between the Sudanese government and two rebel groups in Darfur.

Last week, the AU said it would expand the observer force to 2,000 troops. But the Sudanese government has rejected the proposal, saying the responsibility to protect the people of Darfur lies with Khartoum.

On Friday, Nigeria said it was training 120 troops who could soon be deployed to Darfur as part of the proposed 2,000-strong AU peacekeeping force.

Army spokesman, Col Emeka Onwuamaegbu, told IRIN in Abuja that the troops were only awaiting orders before they could move into Darfur. "We were ordered to prepare a company of soldiers, which is 120 troops for deployment to Sudan," Onwuamaegbu said

In Khartoum, a senior United Nations official met Sudanese officials on Tuesday to discuss a plan to disarm militias responsible for attacks against civilians in Darfur, improve security for the 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and alleviate the humanitarian crisis, within 30 days.

The UN Security Council recently passed a resolution that gave Sudan 30 days to disarm the militias or face other measures. Sudan has said the period is too short. Last week however, Sudan agreed with the UN on a plan to start disarming the militias. The plan was approved by the Sudanese cabinet on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said local authorities and government officials in West Darfur had continued to pressure IDPs to return to villages that are neither safe nor offered any possibility of a decent life since most of the crops and homes had been destroyed by rampaging militias.

UNHCR noted that the government had said it would move tens of thousands of IDPs living in Kalma camp and Kas town, South Darfur, to the state capital of Nyala. It also intended to move IDPs from a makeshift camp in Mornei.

"UNHCR has consistently told the government at all levels that any movement of IDPs must be entirely voluntary, because people who have already suffered the trauma of being chased from their homes by armed militiamen do not need further trauma of another forced move," it said on Tuesday.

"The government is posting policemen in empty villages in an effort to convince displaced people that it is safe to return to those villages. However, displaced people tell us they are not reassured by government policemen and do not feel the time is yet right for their return home," UNHCR spokesperson, Jennifer Pagonis, was quoted as saying in a statement.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that despite Sudanese government pledges to improve humanitarian access in Darfur, the situation had deteriorated over the past week.

It said the government had placed restrictions on flights, causing major delays in the deployment of humanitarian staff. More international NGOs were also reporting difficulties in hiring staff due to government-imposed restrictions and delays, OCHA added.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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