REGIONAL - A fourth Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) battalion will be airlifted to the Sudanese war-ravaged region of Darfur this month, Military Spokesman Maj. Jill Rutaremara has said.
The 800-strong battalion is an addition to three others that are already deployed in Darfur and it is set to operate under the mandate of the approved hybrid AU-UN peacekeeping force.
“The 55th battalion will go in the second shift during the regular rotation programme which will start on October, 15,” Rutaremara said yesterday.
The battalion, he said, will be backed by a heavy support package, and will be deployed in Sector One, El-Fasher.
It will be under the command of Lt. Col. Bukenya Ngarambe, he added.
“Eighteen APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers) are already in the country and will be used by this battalion. They will be transported by a cargo aircraft,” Rutaremara said.
The troops, which rotate after every six months will be airlifted by Miami Air
International, which has been facilitating the airlifting.
In June, the Sudanese government accepted the proposal for a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping operation.
Subsequently, Sudanese foreign minister Dr Lam Akol visited Rwanda, requesting her to make further troop contribution for the 26,000-strong force.
Recently, Rwanda’s Maj. Gen Karenzi Karake was approved by the UN to deputise the Force Commander of the new force, which is the largest military intervention to be deployed by the UN.
The hybrid operation is the third phase of a three-step process to replace the ill-equipped AU Mission in the Sudan (AMIS), which has made little impact on the killings of African farmers largely blamed on pro-government militias called Janjaweed.
Rwanda already has close to 2,000 troops in Sudan under the auspices of the African Union, which are deployed in sectors one (El-Fasher), four and seven in Kabkabiya and Zalinge respectively.
The rotation that will take place next year, according to Rutaremara, the three battalions will be restructured to the standards of the UN peacekeepers.
Meanwhile, fighting has erupted in the Darfuri town of Muhajiriya, controlled by the one rebel faction to sign a peace deal with the government in May last year.
The Sudan Liberation Army faction run by Minni Minnawi came under attack from government troops.
The SLA say dozens have died, and others are being treated for wounds by the African Union peacekeeping force.
Amnesty International says Sudan’s Armed Forces are gathering in large numbers in at least six Darfuri towns.
The London-based human rights organisation said it had received credible reports that the Sudanese army was close to the towns of Kornoy, Um Baru, Kutum and Tine in northern Darfur.
A separate report spoke of a clash between soldiers and a rebel group in Tine, which is close to the Chadian border.
The SLA says the fighting comes as “a stab in the back” for their alliance.
Observers say the upsurge in fighting is an attempt to gain ground ahead of the peace talks due to take place in Libya on the 27 October.
The commander of the 7,000-strong African Union force, General Martin Luther Agwai, told the BBC in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, that at least 24 people were injured in the attack on Muhajiriya.
He initially said he believed Sudanese government planes had bombed the town on Monday but, later on, the AU suggested there may not have been any aerial bombing after all.
Additional reporting by BBC