Seven African countries have agreed to contribute personnel to an East African brigade that is to be part of a larger African Union peacekeeping force. The East African Standby Brigade, which is expected to be fully operational by June of next year, is to have a minimum of 5,500 troops and civilians from 11 African countries.

The regional Inter-governmental Authority on Development, known as IGAD - the same body that coordinated the recently concluded Sudanese and Somali peace talks - is overseeing the brigade's formation.

IGAD's chief of Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, Peter Marwa, says the East African Standby Brigade is one of five regional brigades that will form the African Union's African Standby Force, which will have at least 15,000 personnel.

Mr. Marwa says the African Union could ask the brigade to perform a number of peacekeeping and peace enforcement activities in conflicts around the continent. "The region could be tasked by the African Union to go for peacekeeping operations in their own region, or they could be used in another place," he said. "Also, in an event of gross violation of human rights, it could actually be used in peace enforcement."

On Monday in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, an agreement to contribute to the East African Standby Brigade was signed by Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia. Mr. Marwa says he expects the remaining countries - Comoros, Eritrea, Madagascar, and the Seychelles to pledge their support for the brigade soon.

The countries are also expected to fund the brigade, which is to have an annual administrative budget of $2.5 million.

At Monday's launch, press reports quoted Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as saying the standby brigade was created in part to avoid a situation such as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where no force intervened to stop 800,000 people from being killed.

Mr. Meles said the broader African Standby Force should intervene at short notice to save lives and property in conflict situations.