NIGERIA-SUDAN: Nigerian senate approves sending 1,500 peacekeepers to Darfur
ABUJA, 19 Aug 2004 (IRIN) - The Senate has approved a request by President Olusegun Obasanjo to send up to 1,500 Nigerian troops to Sudan's troubled Darfur region to serve with an African Union (AU) protection force.
Senator Daniel Saror, deputy minority leader of the Senate, told IRIN on Wednesday that the upper chamber of the Federal Parliament had approved Obasanjo’s request, based “on the need to arrest the ugly situation in Sudan which we find absolutely unacceptable.”
Saror stressed that only one company of about 120 Nigerian troops would be deployed initially to Darfur to serve alongside 155 Rwandan troops who are already there to protect AU ceasefire monitors.
“But the president also made it clear that it might be necessary to increase the number of troops later and the Senate agreed with him,” he added.
Nigeria, the regional superpower in West Africa, is set to play an increasingly prominent role in international efforts to end the fighting in Sudan's western Darfur region. The United Nations estimates that 1.5 million people have been made homeless by the conflict including 200,000 that have fled as refugees to neighbouring Chad.
Next Monday, Obasanjo, in his capacity as chairman of the AU, will host a fresh round of peace talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja between the Sudanese government and the two rebel movements in Darfur.
Last week Obasanjo requested the Senate approve the deployment of one company of troops to Darfur, but he made clear at the same time that Nigeria was prepared to ramp up its military commitment if a proposed 2,000-strong AU peacekeeping force for the region came into being.
“This approval should equally make allowance for the Nigerian contribution to be expanded as may be necessary to one battalion, but not more than two battalions at the utmost,” Obasanjo said in his letter to the Senate.
“Given our pre-eminent place in the continent, the seriousness of the situation in Darfur, our historical contribution to peacemaking, peace building and reconciliation processes in Africa, this is one more chance for us to show leadership and provide hope to millions of our brothers and sisters in the Sudan,” he added.
Over the past 15 years, Nigerian troops have played a prominent role in peacekeeping efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Now the country appears keen to intervene in Darfur on a major scale. The proposed two battalions of troops for Darfur would constitute three quarters of the planned 2,000-strong AU peacekeeping force for the troubled region.
A Nigerian army spokesman said the first company of troops was ready to leave for Darfur at short notice, but it would take longer to mobilise two full battalions of around 770 men each..
“We were ordered to prepare a company strength of soldiers, which is 120 troops for deployment to Sudan,” Colonel Emeka Onwuamaegbu, spokesman of the Nigerian Army Headquarters told IRIN. “At the moment, a company is ready to deploy as soon as we receive the order to move.”
Sudanese Foreign Minister, Dr. Mustafa Osman led a Sudanese delegation to Abuja Tuesday to firm up arrangements for the deployment of Nigerian troops in Darfur and prepare for next week's round of peace talks in the Nigerian capital.
“We wish to assure you that we do not oppose the AU’s intervention, but we want a chance to put our views across”, Osman told reporters after a meeting with Obasanjo.
Sudan has expressed strong reservations about the AU’s plans to deploy a full-scale peacekeeping force in Darfur with a mandate to protect civilians as well as AU ceasefire monitors, but it has not rejected the proposal outright.
A ceasefire agreed between Khartoum and the two rebel groups in April has been widely flouted.
Although Sudanese President Omar Hassan al Bashir recently agreed, under international pressure, to disarm the pro-government Janjawid militia groups, which are widely accused of atrocities against civilians, the two rebel movements have protested that many of the Janjawid are simply being drafted into the police and army.