GASABO - In a rotation exercise that kicked off yesterday, the first batch of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) on the Darfur peacekeeping mission returned.
The contingent that landed at Kigali International Airport yesterday afternoon was composed of 88 officers and men who are part of the 680-strong 51st battalion, operating under the auspices of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).
These are the first peacekeepers to return, a year after the United Nations (UN) joined efforts with the African Union (AU) to form a hybrid force to maintain peace in the troubled western Sudan region of Darfur.
General James Kabarebe, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who led the military top brass to meet the troops commended them of a job well done.
“Not any force can endure one year in a place far from home and maintain a commendable job like you have done...you have duly represented the RDF and the resilience to which our army is built,” Kabarebe told the returning troops. He said that many peacekeepers only stay in their designated places for not more than three months, “and they totally do nothing in the short period they stay there.”
The troops who are returning were deployed at Zalinge Military Region and the airlifting of the battalion that will take over from them started yesterday morning.
Three other battalions will also be rotated in the exercise that, according to RDF Spokesperson Major Jill Rutaremara, will go on until December this year.
He said that the battalions to be redeployed will, unlike their predecessors, be 800-troops strong and that this was done in conformity with UN standards.
“Originally, our battalions are made up of 680 troops but we have to change this in our current deployment to suit the UN standards,” Maj. Rutaremara explained. In total, Rwanda has four battalions deployed in different sectors of the region.
“We shall have to top each battalion with 120 more troops,” Maj. Rutaremara revealed.
Over 2, 500 RDF troops are deployed in the troubled region. The number increased following the creation of the UN-AU Hybrid Force to maintain peace in Darfur which has been marred by violence since early 2003.
Rwanda deployed troops for the first time in Darfur in August, 2004, as part of continental efforts to end years of violence that has claimed at least 200,000 people and displaced another 2.5 million since it broke out in February 2003.