African Union reinforced as Darfur violence spirals

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Spiralling violence in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan has led the African Union to seek armoured reinforcements.

Scores of armoured personnel carriers (APC), paid for by Canada, landed in Darfur's main town of el-Fasher yesterday as infighting amongst rebels and Arab militias in the past week claimed up to 85 lives and forced 10,000 more from their homes.

The AU has long complained that its 6,000 soldiers are "sitting ducks" in open jeeps for various militias in the vast Darfur region. Last month, two of its soldiers were killed after rebel groups ambushed one of its patrolling troops.

"The APCs will give them authority, confidence, punch and significant flexibility," the Canadian prime minister's special envoy for Africa, Bob Fowler, told Reuters. Canada negotiated for months with authorities in Khartoum to get the APCs in.

While handing over the vehicles, the Canadian prime minister's special envoy for Africa, Bob Fowler, said: "It is all about protecting a delicate peace process and allowing this mission to do its job."

The AU was employed to monitor the erratic ceasefire in Darfur, and has complained that the Sudanese government has blocked the arrival of vital supplies.

The organisation further angered the Sudanese government by saying Khartoum supported the Arab militia, known as the janjaweed, and it saw government planes fly overhead as the janjaweed attacked the Aro Sharow refugee camp.

The AU has tried to get all sides to sit down for peace talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja, but its latest attempts were delayed by infighting between the two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM.)

The American Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Jendayi Fraser, headed to Darfur this week to urge rebel leaders to overcome their differences.

Rebel groups took up arms in early 2003, to fight against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government. The government responded by arming local Arab militia groups and turning a blind eye when they attacked civilians. At least 200,000 people have died and two million have been driven from their homes.