The African Union says it is hoping to send a team of military observers to Darfur in western Sudan to monitor a shaky 45-day cease-fire between the Sudanese government and rebels. There are conflicting reports on whether the truce, which went into effect on Sunday, is still holding.
The 53-member African Union, based in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, says it has not yet determined how many military observers will be sent to Darfur to monitor the cease-fire or when the observers will be deployed.
The director of peace and security for the African Union, Sam Ibok, says a small reconnaissance team is scheduled to travel to western Sudan at the end of the week to assess the security in the troubled region.
If all goes well, Mr. Ibok says, unarmed military observers from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Namibia could be in Darfur by the end of next week.
"As an African organization, we would like to take the lead because Darfur is a very serious African problem. We are hoping of an observation team about 20, which is very mobile with helicopters and stuff like that," he said. "But we are also anticipating that you need to put some ground forces who can help with the protection of the humanitarian convoys and also the observers themselves.
We are trying to bring together the U.S., the EU [European Union], the U.N. and others in a meeting here in Addis Ababa on Monday," he added, "which will look at the logistics and technical aspects of the deployment."
AU officials say the pan-African body would also consider sending troops to Darfur if the fighting worsened in the coming months.
On Wednesday, the United States urged the immediate establishment of a commission to monitor the truce, as mandated in the renewable 45-day cease-fire accord signed last Thursday in neighboring Chad. The State Department says it has received unconfirmed reports that Sudanese government troops and their Arab militia allies were not respecting the truce.
The government in Khartoum denies it has violated the cease-fire, and mediators in Chad insist the truce is still holding.
The conflict in Darfur broke out a year ago after two rebel groups launched a revolt, accusing the Sudanese government of ignoring the impoverished region and using Arab militias as proxies in a violent campaign to drive Africans out of resource-rich areas in the west.
The United Nations estimates the year-old conflict in Darfur has killed thousands of people and has displaced nearly a million within the region. Aid workers say that because of the violence, they have not been able to reach most of the people inside western Sudan.