Ethiopia pledges 5 000 peacekeepers to Darfur

Ethiopia on Thursday pledged 5 000 troops to a United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region.

The 26 000-strong joint mission is to replace a hard-pressed AU force that lacks experience, equipment and cash and has been unable to stop the conflict.

About 200 000 people are estimated to have died in the fighting and an ensuing humanitarian crisis.

”Ethiopia is ready, the troops are equipped, and we are waiting for a request from the AU and the UN to disperse the troops to Darfur,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told a news conference in Addis Ababa.

While African nations have pledged more than enough infantry for the joint force, its future leader, new AU force commander Martin Luther Agwai, said this week few African armies had enough troops that met UN standards.

Agwai, a Nigerian, said: ”The reality is not many African countries can provide troops that can self-sustain themselves for six months,” he said.

”There’s no African country that can have the equipment we need, for example in air assets,” he said, adding that Nigeria, one of the best armies in Africa, could not do it.

A Nigerian army team, meanwhile, arrived in Darfur to repatriate the bodies of seven Nigerian soldiers who were killed in the worst attack on AU peacekeepers last Saturday.

The attack, in which three other soldiers also died and seven were seriously wounded, prompted a new call by Agwai for non-African and Western nations to pledge troops and equipment quickly to the joint UN-AU mission due to take over on January 1.

He has said the 7 000-strong AU force was ”outgunned and outnumbered” by many of the parties in the Darfur conflict.

International elder statesmen, including two Nobel Peace Prize winners, said on Thursday Darfur was rife with violence and deeply divided, after returning from the Sudanese region.

The group, including Nobel laureates former United States President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said rape was widespread and ignored by the Sudanese authorities.

They also urged Khartoum to hand over war-crimes suspects for trial at the International Criminal Court.

Sticking it out

Saturday’s attack by suspected rebel factions destroyed the AU base in Haskanita, south-east Darfur. The mosque was burned and vehicles and weapons looted.

Initially almost 60 troops went missing, but AU spokesperson Noureddine Mezni said all but one had now been found.

The bodies of three dead from Mali, Botswana and Senegal were also to be flown back to their countries. The conditions of seven other soldiers seriously wounded in the attack have stabilised after being taken to a Khartoum hospital.

Agwai said he had almost completed a plan to improve direct control over outlying AU sites to offer them better protection.

UN Sudan envoy Jan Eliasson told Reuters in Stockholm it was unclear who was behind the attack. ”There are some sources claiming this is renegade or small factions of a group not acting in the spirit of the leadership,” he said.

”We have noted that important leaders of the different rebel movements have condemned this terrible act and by that committed themselves to the talks and the process of finding a political solution.”

The AU infantry is mostly from Nigeria, Senegal and Rwanda with a smaller South African contingent. Senegal had said it may withdraw its troops if it found the AU could not defend itself.

But Rwanda and Nigeria agreed to stick it out.

”It’s a cowardly and barbaric move to kill troops supposed to bring peace to you,” said Rwanda army spokesperson Jill Rutaremara. ”We will keep firm on the ground and accomplish the mission that we went to Darfur to do.”

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for a junior government minister and allied militia leader accused of colluding in war crimes in Darfur. Khartoum refuses to hand them over. — Reuters

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