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Human Rights Group Calls for More African Union Troops to Protect Civilians in Darfur

The largest human rights monitoring group in the United States, Human Rights Watch, is calling on the African Union to accelerate its efforts to protect citizens in Darfur and to expand its troops.

Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the current head of the African Union, asking the AU to expand its mandate and increase its troops in war torn Sudan's Darfur region.

More than 800 African Union troops are serving in Darfur with the consent of the Sudan government and the United Nations. By mid-Jaunary, the AU is expected to have 3,500 troops in place. But Georgette Gagnon of Human Rights Watch, says it is not enough, particularly if the 1.8 million people displaced by the crisis in Darfur want to go home.

"We think they need more than 3,500 to do the job that needs to be done, to secure the rural areas of Darfur," she said. "Darfur is a huge place. The AU troops need to spread out to these rural areas so that people in displaced persons camps and others who are displaced will feel safe enough to return to their villages voluntarily. But that won't happen with 3,500 troops."

The New York-based group also recommends that the African Union ask the United Nations Security Council for a full mandate. "We think there has been far too little done by the international community in Dafur, in particular the Security Council, which has passed a few resolutions that have absolutely no impact on the ground," she said. "So this means, of course, that civilians, people, continue to be attacked by the Janjaweed militias and the government troops. Also, ceasefire violations are continuing by the rebel groups and the government forces and militias. So the situation of civilians has not improved one bit."

Human Rights Watch also says peace talks between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebel groups must include human rights provisions. And the group suggests the African Union suspend Sudan's voting rights until the situation in Darfur improves.