Rwanda troops airlifted to start Darfur mission


Rwandan troops were airlifted today to west Sudan's troubled Darfur region as the first foreign force there, mandated to protect observers monitoring a ceasefire between the Sudanese government and western rebels.

Some 154 Rwandan troops and military equipment were being sent to Darfur this weekend as apart of an African Union (AU) force. Rwandan President Paul Kagame said yesterday his soldiers would also intervene to protect civilians in danger.

"This is the last departure, they're all gone," Rwandan government spokesman Mr Joseph Bideri said.

The United Nations calls Darfur the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and says 50,000 people have been killed and at least one million more displaced since two rebel groups took up arms against the government in February last year.

The Rwandan troops flew in as part of a contingent that will also see Nigerian soldiers flown to Darfur at a later date, with the Dutch government meeting the costs of the airlift.

A Dutch plane flew Rwandan supplies, including several armoured personnel carriers, and crew to Darfur yesterday.

Rwanda says the world's slow response to the Darfur crisis echoes its own experience during a 1994 genocide, and Mr Kagame's latest comments follow confusion over the exact powers and role of the troops being sent to Sudan.