A top Sudanese official said Wednesday that his country did not need African Union peacekeepers to protect civilians in its troubled western Darfur region but said that the 150 union troops already there to guard observers were welcome to help the government shut down its rebel opponents. The official, Agriculture Minister Majzoub al-Khalifa Ahmad, maintained that foreign peacekeepers were not necessary in what the United Nations calls the world's worst human calamity, where mostly Arab pro-government militias operate and an estimated 30,000 black Africans have died and some 1.2 million have fled their homes. "The final role of peacekeeping in Darfur and the protection of civilians is the mandate of the government of Sudan only," Mr. Khalifa Ahmad said on the sidelines of peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. However, he said the 150 African Union troops from Rwanda who are protecting 80 military observers to an often-violated cease-fire in Darfur could escort rebel groups fighting government forces back to their barracks. He spoke on the third day of African Union-sponsored peace talks between Sudan and two southern mostly black African rebel groups, which took up arms 18 months ago over what they see as unfair treatment by the government in their struggles with Arab countrymen. Rebels and government delegates finally began work Wednesday on a formal agenda for the Abuja talks after rebels ended a deadlock by agreeing to discuss how their fighters could return to their barracks. "For the sake of the continuation of the talks and the interest of the people of Darfur in general, we the two movements have decided to make accommodations about these points and to continue with the talks," Ahmed Tugod Lissan, head of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement delegation, told reporters. The rebels still refuse to disarm until the Arab Janjaweed militia lays down its weapons, but returning fighters to their barracks is widely seen as a step toward to demobilization. The violence in Darfur stems from longstanding tensions between nomadic Arab tribes and their African farming neighbors over dwindling water and agricultural land, informs the NYTimes. Telegraph publishes that fifteen armed men in blue uniforms guard the metal stairs leading to the Sudanese court. Among the people massed at the bottom, only those who look official and scream loud enough are let through, pushing their way past the soldiers. Crammed inside the courtroom, which is perhaps 20ft square, are 30 lawyers in black cloaks, 70 more armed men, and sundry witnesses and observers - a total of about 150 people in all, with room for none but the judge to sit down. There is, however, no sign of the accused. To the disquiet of the defence lawyers, they have not been brought to the court compound. "This is only a procedural session," a government prosecutor explains According to Defense News, a first 150-strong company of Nigerian troops is to set off soon for the war-torn region of Darfur in western Sudan to protect cease-fire monitors, Nigeria’s defense spokesman told Agence France-Presse on Aug. 26. “Tentatively, the troops will leave for Sudan on,” Colonel Ganiyu Adewale said. State media had earlier reported that the troops would leave “within 48 hours.”
The troops are due to join a 150-strong Rwandan detachment already in Darfur under African Union command. Based in El-Fasher in northern Darfur and led by a Nigerian general, the joint force will protect AU observers. The African Union is putting pressure on Sudan to allow a larger force, numbering around 2,000 troops, to deploy to the area to oversee a tentative peace process launched this week at talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. But Sudanese negotiators insist that such a force could only come into the country as part of a negotiated deal to demobilize and disarm Darfur’s two rebel groups, and not to protect civilians or aid shipments. Darfur plunged into war in February last year, when black African rebel groups rose up against the government in Khartoum. Part of Khartoum’s response to the uprising was to use a proxy militia, the Janjaweed, to crush it. Between 30,000 and 50,000 people have been killed in the 18-month conflict and some 1.4 million internally displaced or forced to seek refuge in neighboring Chad.
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