ME and Ophelia

Thursday, August 19, 2004

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To serve with African Union protection force in Darfur

Yesterday, it was reported that Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a letter to the Nigerian Senate for permission to deploy Nigerian troops to Darfur. In the letter, President Obasanjo wrote: "I am requesting for approval to meet the request of the African Union to deploy one company of Nigerian troops as part of the protection force in Darfur. 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."

“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.”

Note, around the same time, the Sudanese External Minister, Dr Mustafa Ismail was in Nigeria to brief President Obasanjo, as the African Union (AU) Chairman, on the situation in his country and to assure Nigeria of his country's readiness to participate in the coming peace talks. 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.

Today, the Nigerian Senate approved the request to send up to 1,500 Nigerian troops to Darfur to serve with an African Union (AU) protection force. Yay for Nigeria!

It was reported the Senate had approved Obasanjo’s request, based “on the need to arrest the ugly situation in Sudan which we find absolutely unacceptable.” Nigerian Senator 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.

Next Monday, August 23, 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.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 8/19/2004
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