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African Union to Monitor Darfur Cease-Fire - 2004-06-10

The African Union commission established to monitor a cease-fire in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan has opened its headquarters.

The African Union's senior military officer, Colonel De Matha Jaotody, told VOA the organization's cease-fire monitoring commission headquarters is up and running in the northern Darfur town of al-Fashir.

Colonel Jaotody says six military observers are in Darfur laying the groundwork for offices to be opened in other towns in northern and southern Darfur, including Tine, Nyala and al-Geneina and one in neighboring Chad.

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) announced it is giving $14.5 million to support the African Union observer commission.

Colonel Jaotody said that the purpose of the commission is to ensure that the Sudanese government and rebel groups operating in Darfur stick to a cease-fire agreement signed in April.

"They are patrolling. They are going to report to the cease-fire commission, [and] the sectors and if there is a violation they are going to discuss it and it will be brought up to what we call the joint commission, which is a political body composed of members from all the parties also,? he explained.

The Sudanese government has been fighting in Darfur for more than a year against two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement.

The rebels say they are fighting economic and ethnic repression by the government. They add that the repression is being aided by government-backed Arab militias called janjaweed.

However, the government attributes the fighting to hooligans and criminal elements. Sudan's envoy to Britain, Hassan Abdin, told British television the government is not backing the janjaweed.

The fighting has killed thousands of people and has displaced up to one million more.

Colonel Jaotody says the cease-fire monitoring commission will consist of 120 military observers, 60 coming from African countries, and the rest from the European Union, the United States and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the United Nations reports that southern Darfur is stable enough for aid agencies to conduct a campaign to vaccinate children against measles.

A spokeswoman for UNICEF's Khartoum office, Paula Claycombe, says the U.N. children's agency, along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and others, started vaccinating 1.3 million children in southern Darfur last weekend.

"So far, what we know about how it is going in south Darfur, it seems to be going well,? she said. ?In the town of Nyala, which is the capital city of Darfur, we have already reached over 90 percent of the targeted children."

Ms. Claycombe added that the aid agency workers plan to travel to conduct their vaccination campaign in northern Darfur this weekend. Altogether, they plan to immunize 2.2 million children in the region.