The African Union says a group of peacekeeping troops that was seized by rebels in northern Darfur this week has been released. The release followed talks between the AU and the Sudan Liberation Movement, one of two rebel groups operating in Darfur.
Babagana Kingibe is the AU special representative in Sudan. From Khartoum, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the troops release and the African Union mission in Darfur.
He says, “They were kidnapped in the evening of the 10th. And immediately we received the information we engaged the secretary general of the Sudan Liberation Movement…and they were released that same evening. But because it was nightfall they could not travel from the village where they were back to their base. So it wasn’t until the follow day, that was yesterday, that they were able to return."
He says the soldiers were released unharmed and were not abused in anyway. The rebels reportedly took the soldiers into custody because they were unaware the AU troops were supposed to be in the area. However, Ambassador Kingibe says, “Of course that is totally unacceptable to us because the terms of our deployment gives of free movement everywhere in Darfur. And we do not need prior permission of any of the Sudanese parties to go about carrying out our mandate.”
Currently, the AU has 3,320 troops, military and civilian support staff in Darfur. But following an assessment mission in March, the AU decided it should increase troop levels to 6,171by the end of September. However, Darfur is the size of France and many observers say many more troops would be needed to be effective.
Mr. Kingibe says, “ We are deployed on certain assumptions that the parties will comply with the ceasefire agreement they signed in N’Djamena last year in April. As security returns, because of the improved political process…our task will be that much easier.” He adds, “It will not depend on total coverage of the area, but more effective compliance with the ceasefire agreement, cooperation of the parties and efforts by the Sudanese government to restore law and order to the region.”
On Monday, May 15th, Libya is due to host a six-nation meeting on Darfur with the support of the African Union.