/ 22 September 2007

Limited Darfur force could be on ground in October

A small amount of extra peacekeeping troops for Sudan’s troubled Darfur region could be in place by October, officials said on Friday after a high-level meeting on Darfur at the United Nations.

Nigeria and Rwanda are considering sending ”a few battalions” to the region next month, according to March Malloch-Brown, Britain’s secretary of state for Africa, Asia and the UN, who spoke to reporters after the UN meeting, chaired by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Those limited forces, if sent, would be on their governments’ own initiative. They would not be part of a disputed joint UN-African Union force of about 20 000 troops, finally approved by the UN Security Council in July, more than one year after rebels and the Sudanese government signed a shaky peace agreement.

A ”first wave” of the UN-AU force could be in place by the beginning of next year, Malloch-Brown said.

For months, Sudan had opposed a UN force, insisting that only African troops would be allowed into the region. Khartoum eventually agreed to the UN force after the Security Council agreed it should have a primarily ”African character”.

United States deputy secretary of state John Negroponte, who attended the UN meeting, said he was concerned with the slowness of the response so far. ”Here we are 18 months after the signing of the Darfur peace agreement, and we are still at the initial phase of establishing security,” he told reporters.

Negroponte said he was ”hopeful” that the full UN-AU force could be deployed by spring 2008, in line with the timetable set by the Security Council.

About 300 000 people have been killed in fighting between government-backed Arab militias and African rebel groups in Darfur. — Sapa-dpa