Here's wishing the Nigerian troops best of luck in their mission "Operation Save Life II". A 155-strong company of Nigerian infantrymen arrived at Abuja airport on Monday, ready to depart to Darfur as part of an African Union force protecting ceasefire monitors.
"You are going to Sudan purely to assist our brothers and sisters in restoring a hope that is fast diminishing in them," Brigadier General Shekari Biliyak, commander of the Army Headquarters Garrison, told his troops.
"Most importantly you are to protect the African Union observers in the Darfur region of Sudan. I'm optimistic that you will all do the country proud," he continued, in remarks cut short by a torrential downpour.
"I want to reiterate here that as an AU protection force in Sudan you must be neutral and respect the host country's religions and cultural and traditional norms for your acceptability and success," he said.
The infantry company and its support staff were to be flow out flown out of Abuja later in the day on two Nigerian Airforce C130 Hercules transport planes, on a mission known as "Operation Save Life II".
It will initially deploy to the town of el-Fasher in northern Darfur where it will link up with a similar-sized Rwandan contingent.
The joint force will be commanded by a Nigerian on secondment to the African Union, Brigadier General Festus Okonkwo. Last August, Okonkwo commanded the Nigerian force sent to Liberia as part of moves to end its latest civil war.
Its mission is to protect 133 unarmed military observers who are monitoring a shaky ceasefire signed between Darfur's two main rebel groups and forces loyal to the Khartoum government in April in the Chadian capital Ndjamena.
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RED CROSS BEGINS MASSIVE MERCY MISSION TO DARFUR
Red Cross trucks loaded with food and relief supplies have begun a two-week trek to Darfur, in a mammoth effort to help hundreds of thousands of people.
UN spokeswoman said the eight-truck convoy would leave Red Cross warehouses in Khartoum every two days. A giant cargo plane is making six trips from Switzerland, ferrying nearly 800 tons of trucks and other equipment needed for the relief operation. Food and medicine are desperately needed in 147 refugee camps scattered across a region the size of France.
Attacks are still being reported, and Human Rights Watch, a US-based advocacy group, issued a statement yesterday accusing the Sudanese government of letting the militias maintain at least 16 bases in the region – including five apparently shared with the military. “Throughout the time Khartoum was supposedly reining in the Janjaweed, these camps have been operating in plain sight,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the group’s Africa division.
Jean-Marie Fakhouri, head of Sudan operations for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said Darfur’s people were ”barely managing” and warned of the danger that unrest posed for the relief effort. “The situation has improved in terms of assistance to the camps, but it is extremely fragile,” he said.
Bassam said the Red Cross had seen improved co-operation from Sudan’s leaders, and UN officials have made similar reports. Previously, aid groups complained that the government prevented them from getting relief to Darfur.