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Rwanda sends reinforcements to African Union mission in Darfur

EL FASHER, Sudan, Oct 30 (AFP) — Sixty-five Rwandan troops arrived in the the Darfur town of El Fasher as part of a growing African Union (AU) military mission charged with monitoring a shaky ceasefire in the troubled region of western Sudan, an AFP photographer reported.

Rwandan troops heading to the Darfur region of Sudan walk past Rwanda Guard of Honor soldiers in Kigali, Rwanda, before boarding USAF C-130 bound to El-Fasher, Sudan, October 30, 2004.

El Fasher is the capital of West Darfur, one of three states making up a region the size of France.

The AU is in the process of expanding the strength of the mission, known as AMIS (African Mission in Sudan), sevenfold, to some 3,320 personnel, including 450 military observers of the ceasefire signed by Khartoum and two rebels groups in April.

Reports of violations are frequent and on Saturday the AU’s senior observer said fighting had taken place that day in the Darfur town of Zalingi.

"This is definitely a serious ceasefire violation," Colonel Anathony Amedoh, the Ghanaian chief observer in the AU-led ceasefire commission told AFP in El-Fasher.

Amedoh explained that an AU team was meant to have supervised the release of 11 abducted Arab civilians, including some students, but that "the release had to be postponed due to ongoing fighting between SLA (Sudan Liberation Army rebels) and Janjaweed" pro-government miliitia.

Amedoh also said his team was meant to have met a new Darfur opposition group keen to join peace talks called the National Reform Movement for Development.

It was not clear who abducted the civilians.

Earlier this week, the AU announced that 237 Rwandan troops would set off from Kigali for Darfur on Saturday, joining 155 already on the ground in Darfur.

"The rest will be airlifted in the coming days," Rwandan Defence Minister Marcel Gatsinzi said at Kigali airport earlier Saturday.

On Thursday, 47 Nigerian troops flew in to Darfur as part of the expansion operation.

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Karambe, an officer involved in the planning of Rwanda’s deployment, said all the Rwandan soldiers in Darfur had been tested and shown not to be infected with the AIDS (news - web sites) virus in keeping with a policy that all Rwandan troops leaving the country on official duties must be free of HIV.

Khartoum has insisted that all troops in AMIS must prove they do not carry the virus.

On October 20, the AU’s Peace and Security Council resolved that the enhanced AMIS will have a renewable one-year mandate. The main role of the troops is to protect the military observers but they are also charged with protecting civilians under certain, not entirely clarified, circumstances.

Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have been killed in Darfur since two rebel groups rose up in February 2003, prompting a robust response from government forces and allied militia.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) used the word "genocide" of the scorched earth practices of the local Arab mounted militia who have been razing villages and attacking people of black African descent.

Meanwhile in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, government and rebel delegations took a break Saturday from deadlocked talks on a security protocol.