Home | News    Friday 29 October 2004

Rwandan troops to leave Saturday for Darfur

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KIGALI, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Nearly 100 Rwandans are set to fly to Sudan’s Darfur region on Saturday, joining just-arrived Nigerian soldiers to monitor a tenuous ceasefire in the country’s vast west, military officials said.

Nigerian troops head to a U.S. C-130 for transport into the Darfur region of Sudan in Abuga, Nigeria, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2004. The C-130s will continue to airlift additional forces into the region over the next two weeks.

As it did for the 50 Nigerians who arrived on Thursday, the U.S. Air Force will provide the aircraft to fly the Rwandan soldiers into Darfur.

"We’ve got three C-130s going tomorrow, carrying 97 Rwandan troops and equipment and supplies," U.S. Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Heather Healy said on Friday.

Up to 237 soldiers are expected to leave in the next three days, said Lt. Col Charles Karamba, a spokesman for the Rwandan Army.

The Rwandans are the second contingent of troops to go to Darfur as part of an expanded African Union mission there.

The AU is deploying more than 3,000 soldiers to Darfur to support 150 ceasefire monitors and 300 troops already in the arid region the size of France.

At least 1.5 million people have been uprooted from their homes since rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government last year.

The United Nations calls the situation one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. It estimates at least 70,000 people have died from malnutrition and disease in the last seven months alone, a figure the Sudanese government disputes.

The AU force’s main job is to monitor a ceasefire agreed in April which both sides accuse each other of breaking, but their mandate also includes protecting civilians threatened with immediate harm.

Nigerian Major General Shekari Behubiliyok told the troops on the Abuja airstrip before they left for Darfur: "You must be impartial and you must not be seen to support one side or the other. Neutrality is the guiding word."

On Aug. 15, roughly 155 Rwandans became the first foreign soldiers to arrive in Darfur.

The Nigerians expect to deploy another 350 soldiers over the next few weeks, bringing its total deployment to a battalion of 550.

Other troops are expected to be sent from other, as-yet unspecified countries.

(Additional reporting by Finbarr O’Reilly in El-Fasher)

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