Commander voices fears for Darfur peacekeepers
EL FASHER, Sudan - The Nigerian commander of African Union troops said he feared for the future of a new peacekeeping force, but assured former president Jimmy Carter and other statesmen yesterday that the deaths of 10 comrades would not weaken his country's commitment to Darfur.
General Martin Agwai told the group the proposed force of AU and UN troops still lacked equipment, and even by January would have less than a third of the troops promised.
"Our president called me and assured me he understood our plan and would continue to support us," Agwai said, drawing applause from the delegates visiting El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur province.
Over the weekend, rebels overran an African peacekeeping base in northern Darfur, killing 10 - the deadliest attack on the force since it arrived in the region three years ago.
Nigerian forces suffered the greatest losses in the assault, which drew condemnation yesterday from the UN Security Council.
"The council condemns this murderous attack and demands that no effort be spared so that the perpetrators be identified and brought to justice," the council's statement said, after a day of disagreement over whether to call the assault a terrorist act perpetrated by rebels, as South Africa, Russia, and some other council members wanted.
Nigeria's commitment is crucial because under the compromise reached between the United nations and Khartoum's government, the majority of the new 26,000-strong joint force must be predominantly African.
The delegation led by Carter and Desmond Tutu is trying to use their influence at a crucial time - with peace talks due to start in Libya and deployment of the hybrid force to begin later this month.
The visit by the elders is largely a symbolic move by a host of respected figures to push all sides to make peace in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven out of their homes in four years of violence.