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Senegal Pledges to Triple Peacekeepers in Darfur


Senegal's government has pledged to nearly triple its forces for the planned African Union/ U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Darfur region of western Sudan. It joins several other African countries that have promised to send troops to the largest planned peacekeeping operation in the world. For VOA, Phuong Tran has more from Dakar.

Senegal's government announced Thursday it will nearly triple the size of its troops in Darfur to 1,600.

Senegal currently has about 500 peacekeepers in Darfur as part of an undermanned African Union force of about 7,000.

By the end of the year, a combined UN/AU force of 26,000 soldiers and police is expected to begin peacekeeping duties in the war torn region.

Spokesman for Senegal's armed forces, Colonel Ousmane Sarr, says he is waiting for more information from the government.

"We received orders Senegal will augment the forces in Darfur, but we do not have any confirmation about the number," he said. "People are ready. When we receive orders [to] assemble people, we will do so."

Senegal's government had told the African Union it will send troops only if they can defend themselves.

Five Senegalese peacekeepers were killed in West Darfur earlier this year in the deadliest attack on AU peacekeepers since the start of its operation in 2003.

"We lost unfortunately five men in Darfur, but Senegal is very determined to help in bringing peace to every country in the world," added Colonel Sarr. "We know there is a price to pay for this, but Senegal is ready for that."

The U.N. security resolution allows peacekeepers to use force to protect civilians, but not to seize illegal weapons.

Earlier this week, the U.N. revealed which countries, mainly African nations, which have pledged to contribute to the force. They include Egypt, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ghana.

The U.N. said, in a statement, that the forces will have a "predominantly African character" as demanded by Sudan, which had steadfastly refused earlier U.N. peacekeeping proposals.

International experts say about 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes since 2003. Sudan puts the death toll at 9,000 and accuses Western media of exaggerating the conflict, which began when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms complaining of neglect by Khartoum.