25 August 2004
Sudan's government says it will accept a larger African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur as long as the troops are used to contain and demobilize rebel forces. Peace talks are being held in Nigeria.
The concession by the Sudanese government to increase the number of AU troops in the western Darfur region is viewed as a breakthrough in the talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The peace talks nearly ended when rebels earlier refused to be disarmed by the government in Khartoum.
AU chairman and Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo had been pushing for a force of two thousand to be sent to the region to augment the 150 men already there. The exact number of new troops is yet to be agreed upon.
The London-based human rights organization Amnesty International has been harshly critical of the Sudanese government. But spokeswoman Elizabeth Hodgkin says the increase in AU troops is a promising step in protecting the civilians.
"The African Union monitors have been extremely important so far because they are the independent voice which has been able to go to places and find out what has happened. And so to cut through all the denials and falsehoods and say this is what happened. This is the importance of the monitors but we also need to protect the people," she says.
Ms. Hodgkin says the Sudanese government has also claimed it was bringing some members of the Janjaweed Arab militia to trial but failed to come up with names and information when pressed.
The government in Khartoum has not yet agreed to utilizing the AU troops as a means of protection for civilians stating that only the Sudanese government has the mandate to protect its people.
The violence in the Darfur region has been going on for more than 18 months and has led to the displacement of more than one million civilians. The United Nations has called it the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and has given Sudan until the end of August to end the violence.