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Nigerian Troops Head to Sudan's Darfur Region to Join AU


Some 700 Nigerian soldiers are on their way to the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur, as part of the African Union peacekeeping force in that country. The deployment comes at a time of great uncertainty over the future of the group.

The deployment of a fresh batch of Nigerian troops in Darfur is going ahead, despite Sudan's order that the African Union force be withdrawn when its mandate ends later this month.

Nigerian soldiers form the bulk of the 7,000-strong African Union contingent in Sudan.

Nigeria army spokesman Colonel Ayo Olaniyan says the deployment is to fill in for a Nigerian detachment that has just completed a six-month duty tour.

"We are in the process of rotating troops in Sudan, and the actual story is, 680 soldiers of the Nigerian army, of 103 Battalion, are traveling to Sudan to replace a field engineering regiment, which is on its way back home after six months in that operation in Sudan," said Olaniyan. "The movement commenced last Friday, and will be spread over the next two weeks, or so."

Most African leaders have welcomed the United Nations resolution on the deployment of a larger and more robust military contingent in Darfur, to replace the under-equipped African peacekeepers.

Khartoum has rejected the U.N. deployment, and analysts say the removal of African troops could complicate the humanitarian crisis in the area.

The Sudan government is believed to be contemplating a military offensive in northern Darfur. Fighting has intensified in recent days.

The government and a rebel faction signed a peace agreement in Abuja last May. But fighting continued, with the African Union force unable to enforce a ceasefire that came into effect with the signing of the Abuja accord.

Fighting in the region, which is along Sudan's western border, has resulted in at least 200,000 deaths in three years and displaced more than two million people.