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Sudan Warns Rwanda About Role of Troops in Darfur - 2004-08-16

Tension between Sudan and Rwanda is rising over the role a contingent of Rwandan troops is expected to play in the troubled Darfur region of western Sudan.

Rwandan soldiers are the first international troops to arrive in war-torn Darfur. The 140 soldiers arrived Sunday to be part of a 300-member African Union protection force, assigned to protect 80 AU observers monitoring a four month-old, frequently-violated, cease-fire between Sudanese government troops, pro-Khartoum Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, and two main Darfur rebel groups.

Sudan's state minister for foreign affairs, Abdelwahad Najeb, says that as far as Khartoum is concerned, the protection force in Darfur has only one purpose.

"The mission for those forces is very clear; protection for the monitors," he said. "As far as the civilians, this is the responsibility of the government of Sudan, and this is very clearly stipulated in the resolution of the African Union in its meeting on the 8th of July in Addis Ababa. I think the president of Rwanda was there in the summit of the A.U., and he knows what is the mandate of the Rwandan troops."

But Rwandan President Paul Kagame has made it clear that he does not intend for his troops to simply protect unarmed AU observers.

He told reporters Saturday in Kigali that if Rwandan soldiers saw civilians in Darfur being attacked, they would be obligated to intervene and protect the people, even if there is no mandate to do so.

Mr. Kagame says he will not allow a repeat of what occurred in his own country 10-years ago. Back then, United Nations troops, lacking a clear mandate, did nothing to stop Hutu extremists from slaughtering some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during a three-month killing spree.

Sudan's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Najeb says that if the Rwandans intervene outside of their mandate in Darfur, Khartoum would have to take action, but he refuses to say what that action may be.

Next week, about 160 troops from Nigeria are expected to be deployed alongside the Rwandan soldiers in several areas of Darfur, where tens of thousands of blacks have been killed and more than a million displaced since two black rebel groups took up arms against the Khartoum government a year and a half ago.

The Arab-dominated Sudanese government denies international charges that it has been arming and instructing Janjaweed militiamen to carry out ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide against black civilians in Darfur.

The government faces unspecified sanctions if it fails to meet a U.N. Security Council deadline to disarm the Janjaweed by the end of the month.