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AU Military Chief Wants More Troops in Darfur

The African Union troops in Darfur are to play a very important role in enforcing security in the aftermath of the Abuja accord. Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja that the troops commander is seeking urgent reinforcement to increase the effectiveness of his men.

Under the Abuja treaty on Darfur, African Union troops are to ensure strict compliance with the cease-fire and security arrangements as well as disarmament provisions.

The commander of the African Union troops, General Collins Ihekire, says increasing troop levels is key to the implementation of the new accord and the strengthening of security in the troubled Sudanese region.

"If we don't have sufficient troops, we cannot be everywhere," he said. "So what we do now is, where we cannot have presence on 24-hour basis we just go on patrols to make sure that we cover that area also. But definitely we need increased troops level to cover everywhere. I keep citing example of Liberia having 15,000 troops and it's about a quarter the size of Darfur. So if we are to use that standard, how many will we need? But we are not asking for that. We are saying give us 15,000 troops."

The African Union currently has 6,400 troops in Darfur.

The rejection of the peace deal by two rebel factions had prompted concerns about the prospect of renewed hostilities. Supporters of a rebel chief, Abdulwahed al-Nur, have signaled their intention to resume fighting from their bases in Darfur.

General Ihekire dismisses such threats.

"Frankly speaking I believe they will not strike," he said. "Because one, their strength on the ground does not dispose him to that kind of action that could cause much damage."

The African Union is hoping the splinter Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement, both of which rejected the Abuja peace plan last week would somehow be convinced to come on board.

British-born consultant to the African Union on Darfur, Peter DeWaal, says the rebel groups could lose out if they stick to their current position.

"For the groups that refused to sign, the consequences are bleak indeed," he said. "They are excluded from the political process, they are unable to return to the armed struggle because they are still bound by the cease-fire of N'djamena two years ago and a whole array of international measures will be taken against them, including most likely, individual and collective sanctions."

The rebels took up arms in 2003 alleging marginalization by Khartoum. More than two million people have been displaced and some 200,000 killed.