Military officers from 12 African countries were in Kenya recently training to be peacekeepers in Darfur and other African Union missions. Cathy Majtenyi attended part of the session and filed this report for VOA.
Military officials from Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and nine other African countries gathered at the International Mine Action Training Centre in Kenya recently.
In classes and through simulated exercises like the one code named "Blue Bonnet," they learned how to run a command post in an African Union or other multinational peacekeeping operation.
The Canadian government is teaching the 10-day course. Training tells trainees, "You're in the army, do something about it!"
"They should come up with a plan or at least an option to present to their commanders saying: 'Sir, we have analyzed these things and this is our recommendation to you.' And the commander can say, 'Right, make it happen,'" says Major Alan Woolley, who developed most of the course's material.
Many of the students will end up serving in the volatile western Sudan region of Darfur, where rebel groups, government forces and a militia called the janjaweed have been battling each other and local residents for four years.
An estimated 200,000 people have been killed and two million others displaced by the fighting.
The African Union already has peacekeeping forces in Darfur. United Nations forces are expected to join them by early next year. In early October, 10 Africa Union peacekeepers were killed in the fighting.
Back at the peacekeeper training program, Captain Assane Sekasan from Senegal, explains that he is not intimidated by such an event. "We have to recognize that we are military and the risk exists everywhere," he says. "In spite of the deaths, we are prepared psychologically and mentally to confront this situation."
Peacekeeping missions can vary in their scope. The United Nations establishes the the aim of each mission, the level of danger and the use of force it permits.
Course instructor Major Alan Woolley describes the basic concept of military peacekeeping. "We are there to stabilize a situation (and) lower the level of violence. We cannot eliminate it but we can drop it to a point where negotiations can continue, some sort of durable solution can be reached, hopefully, and then implemented," he said.
At the end of the course, the military officers are given a certificate, a handshake, and encouragement for the task ahead.