ME and Ophelia

Saturday, August 14, 2004

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Current planning based around 1,800 soldiers that could deploy next month

The following report in Britain's Telegraph, filed on August 14, 2004, was authored by Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent, and David Blair in Khartoum:

A British military reconnaissance team has visited Sudan to investigate the possibility of sending medics and logistical personnel to assist in any United Nations operation to provide aid to the people of Darfur.

The 30-strong team from the Permanent Joint Headquarters, led by a colonel, included medics, logistics staff and communications experts.

It spent 10 days investigating the possibility of mounting an aid and assistance operation. The team is understood to have reported back this week to Air Marshal Glenn Torpy, Chief of Joint Operations, on the problems any force would face.

Its report said that medical aid was the priority rather than food, but that the terrain was difficult and any medical and logistics staff would need strong defences.

Gen Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of General Staff, has raised the possibility of sending a 5,000-strong force, but defence sources said current planning was based around a battle group formation of 1,800 soldiers that could deploy next month.

It would include a medical transport unit, logistical and communications experts and an infantry battalion to provide force protection.

A senior defence source said the situation was very complex and was not just about providing aid. "We need to look at protecting ourselves and the displaced persons; it is a massive problem. Our planning allows us to look at the problems of dealing with thousands of people. There are currently 850,000 homeless and we need to review how we are going to prevent the Janjaweed [the notorious pro-government militia] from mounting further attacks.

"In addition we need to take into account the terrain and the hostile environment. Sudan has a reputation next to the Ivory Coast as the white man's graveyard. It is packed with disease.

"Humanitarian agencies are already in Sudan, but they will be reluctant to take aid from us or work alongside us for fear that their impartiality will be compromised. It is very complex."

There was also a potential threat from al-Qa'eda, the source said. The United States has teams of special forces in Sudan hunting down al-Qa'eda units allegedly training in the mountains.

The key objective for any British troops in Darfur would be to create enough security for the refugees to go home.

At present, the region's terrified people live in squalid camps, unable to return to their villages for fear of attack. Rebels from the Sudan Liberation Army and the Janjaweed have both destroyed countless villages.

The Khartoum regime has promised to restore order in Darfur and has deployed thousands of extra police for the task. Yet the government's links to the Janjaweed mean that few of the refugees, 158,000 of whom have fled to neighbouring Chad, trust its pledges. Hardly any are willing to return at the moment. A British force might be able to reassure them. But Darfur is the size of France and a force even of the size mooted by Gen Jackson would be nowhere near sufficient to restore security in the area.

Aid workers say that the key threats to the refugees are the outbreak of hepatitis E in the camps, with 480 cases recorded so far, and the possibility that Sudan's regime might impose restrictions on humanitarian work.

The UN Security Council is due to debate Sudan at the end of this month and decide whether the regime has complied with last month's resolution demanding the Janjaweed's disarmament. If the Security Council decides to punish Sudan, the Khartoum regime could retaliate by re-imposing visa restrictions on aid workers and placing more bureaucratic obstacles in their path. This would cripple the flow of humanitarian aid to the camps.

Aid workers in Darfur point out that the deployment of British troops would not address either of these key dangers.
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Aug 14 BBC UK report: Oxfam worker reveals Sudan plight. Scale of this crisis is almost beyond imagination.
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AU led Rwandan troops ready to arrive in Sudan today Aug 14

A force of 150 Rwandan troops is due in Darfur today to protect African Union ceasefire monitors. Report below. Note to
Jim: does anyone connected with the Passion know how we can get word to the African Union to show our support for these 150 brave souls? It'd be great to send them and the African Union messages of support, wishing them best of luck, letting them know our thoughts are with them - and that we'll be following and spreading the news of their great work.

The following is an excerpt from a report that says there will be an official ceremony for the troop's departure from Kigali.

They will be the first half of a 300-strong African Union (AU) protection force set to be airlifted into Darfur region today, Saturday, to help observe a ceasefire between the government and rebel groups.

"The African Union and the Rwandan government, with the support of the Netherlands, are ready to deploy the AU force in El-Fashir (capital of North Darfur state), directly from Kigali, on August 14 as planned," said an official at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

"Everything is going as planned," the official, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

A spokesperson for the Rwandan army, Patrick Karegeya, said there would be an official ceremony for the troops' departure from Kigali.

The pan-African force, consisting of 150 Rwandan and 150 Nigerian soldiers, is tasked only with protecting an AU team of observers monitoring the April 8 ceasefire between the Khartoum government and Darfur rebels, which both sides have accused each other of violating.

The Rwandan troops are to be airlifted by the Netherlands to the war-torn region on Saturday, to be followed by the Nigerian soldiers no later than August 25.

Karegeya said the Rwandan troops included a number of Arabic-speaking officers.

The Sudanese government has welcomed the small peacekeeping force. But it voiced opposition this week to plans by the 53-member AU to expand the contingent into a 2 000-strong peacekeeping force.

Further report from BBC: Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande said their mandate did not include the protection of civilians. But the deployment of 2,500 AU peacekeepers is being considered, UN special envoy Jan Pronk said. According to Mr Pronk, the topic has been discussed between the AU chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir.

French news agency AFP quotes Remi Oyo, a spokesman for President Obasanjo, as saying: "If Sudan will not yield to gentle and African pressure, it will have to succumb to extra-African pressure that might not be so gentle."

Mr Pronk welcomed the forthcoming arrival of the monitoring team in Darfur and said he wanted many more African observers. "The more people we have on the ground the greater the possibility to build the confidence of the local population," he told the BBC. He said that progress had been made in talks with the Sudanese government about the establishment of 20km wide safe areas around giant refugee camps in Darfur.
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If Sudan rebuffs African troops it faces outside action: Nigeria

Friday Aug 12 -- Nigeria warned Sudan on Thursday that if it does not allow African Union peacekeepers and diplomats to resolve the Darfur crisis it will end up facing less friendly pressure from outside the continent.

The AU's current chair, Nigeria, warned Sudan on Thursday that unless it allowed AU peacekeepers and diplomats to resolve the conflict it would face pressure from outside the continent.

Sudanese State Foreign Minister Naguib al-Khair Abdel Wahab responded on Friday by saying the only decisions the AU had taken on Darfur confined the pan-African body's role to monitoring and verifying respect of April 8 ceasefire agreement, which was brokered by the government in neighbouring Chad.

"We believe that the task of keeping peace and protecting civilians is exclusively a Sudanese responsibility," he added.
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Text: UN Darfur agreement

BBC news online provides the text of an agreement between the Sudanese government and the United Nations on a "Plan of Action" for Darfur, as carried by Reuters news agency.

Under the proposal, which is expected to be finalised in the coming days, neither soldiers nor the pro-government Janjaweed militia would be able to carry weapons of any kind in these areas.

Despite the progress in Khartoum, UN special envoy Jan Pronk acknowledged that fighting was continuing in Darfur, with Janjaweed fighters ignoring official instructions to end attacks. He said the number of displaced civilians arriving in the refugee camps was rising every day.

The International Organisation from Migration (IOM) says it estimates there are now over 1.2m displaced people within Darfur. In their survey, released on Friday, they say that makeshift camps are not managed or organised and clean water, sanitation and deteriorating health are major causes for concern.

Peace talks due to take place in Abuja on 23 August between all parties in the conflict - the Sudanese government and the two rebel groups - will go ahead, Mr Pronk said, despite uncertainty about whether the rebel groups will attend. "So far we have the impression that they are willing to go, there is a lot of pressure coming from the AU," he said.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 8/14/2004
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