KIGALI - Rwanda has started deploying its last batch of African Union peacekeepers in the Sudanese war-torn region of Darfur. The development marks the end of years of rotation of the country’s AU Darfur peacekeepers following an initial deployment in August 2004. The last group is composed of 538 Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) peacekeepers, hundred of whom were airlifted yesterday by the US’ Miami Air International Boeing 737-800 jet Reg. No N739MA, the same aircraft that transported their colleagues earlier.
The first contingent was seen off by among others, the Chief of Staff (Land Forces), Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga at Kigali International Airport.
The cheering peacekeepers were led by Lt. Col. Paul Nyemanzi. They are part of battalion 25 which replaces battalion 14 in the region where preparations for the deployment of a 26,000-strong hybrid AU-UN force in January are at later stages.
Military Spokesman Maj. Jill Rutaremara said that those airlifted yesterday marked the end of the last battalion of AU peacekeepers.
“They are rotating with their fellow Rwandan peacekeepers that have ended their mandate with African Mission in Sudan (AMIS). After this rotation, there will not be another one before December 1,” Rutaremara said.
The same aircraft transported another 100 RDF troops back home from Darfur after six months of peacekeeping mission there. The returning soldiers were led by Lt. Col. Gideon Hodari, and more of their colleagues will be flown in as their replacements arrive in Darfur this week. A peacekeeping is normally airlifted in groups.
Rutaremara said that the RDF mission in Darfur, known as African Mission in Sudan (Amis), has been a success.
The AMIS mandate expires on December 31 and peacekeepers who will still be serving under AU by that date will automatically be upgraded to the hybrid UN-AU force.
RDF troops in Darfur now total to 2,556 officers and men, with 800 of them already deployed as part of the hybrid UN-AU force.
Rwanda’s Maj. Gen. Karenzi Karake, already in Darfur, will deputise the overall hybrid force commander, named UN African Mission in Darfur (Unamid).
In a bid to set up new structures for the hybrid force, the already deployed peacekeepers in different sectors of Darfur have been merged.
Rutaremara said that some sectors would be combined and put under the command of a brigadier general.
Rebels reject Chinese peacekeepers
Meanwhile, a Darfur rebel faction has demanded that peacekeepers from China pull out of the Sudanese region just hours after the arrival of 135 Chinese engineers.
The army engineers arrived on Saturday to prepare for a joint UN and African Union (AU) peacekeeping force of 26,000.
The key Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) rebel group accuses China of being complicit in the Darfur conflict. Last month the group attacked a Chinese-controlled oilfield, kidnapping several workers. The Jem says it wants China to withdraw its support for the Sudanese government.
They say that oil sold to the Chinese is being used to fund government operations in Darfur. Rebels would not allow the Chinese into areas controlled by their forces, Jem leader Khalil Ibrahim told the news agency Reuters following the arrival of the engineers.
‘Oil for blood’
“We oppose them coming because China is not interested in human rights. It is just interested in Sudan’s resources,” he said. “We are calling on them to quit Sudan, especially the petroleum areas.”
Ibrahim did not say whether he would target the Chinese engineers. “I am not saying I will attack them. I will not say I will not attack them,” he said. “What I am saying is that they are taking our oil for blood.” The Chinese engineers are tasked with building roads and bridges and dig wells ahead of the deployment of the joint peacekeeping force planned for January.
The rebels have said they would not object to peacekeepers from any country other than China. But on Friday, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir said his country would only accept non-African troops from Pakistan or China.
A month ago the Jem attacked Sudan’s Defra oilfield in the Kordofan region, run by a Chinese-controlled consortium, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company.
Jem said at the time that the Chinese company had one week to leave Sudan.
An estimated 200,000 people have died during four-and-a-half years of fighting in Darfur, with a further two million people displaced.
Additional reporting by BBC