OTTAWA, Apr 11, 2005 -- Canada will send a military mission to Sudan within two months, the National Post has learned. The Canadians will join a United Nations observer force monitoring a ceasefire in the vicious civil war in the southern half of the impoverished African nation.
A Department of National Defence source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government will announce this week that 31 Canadian soldiers will be deployed to the East African nation in early summer.
The Canadian troops will be part of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and will include military observers and training officers supporting more than 2,000 African Union soldiers already in Sudan to protect refugees from the fighting.
The source said the Canadian soldiers have been told to be ready to deploy to Sudan by the end of June. "This will all be happening in pretty short order," the source said.
Mark Weintraub, the chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress's Darfur committee, said the coming announcement is a badly needed step toward ending what he calls "the worst human rights catastrophe in the world today."
Mr. Weintraub said Canada can act as a lever to move other nations to commit more troops to stop the killing in the Darfur region of Sudan.
"The people in Darfur need protection," he said. "And the Canadian government has to do everything in its power to catalyze the international community."
"A competently trained, well-equipped force is necessary to go in there and impose order ... to avoid another Rwanda."
More than two million people have fled their homes and as many as 300,000 have been killed in the Darfur fighting, which the United States has described as genocide.
A UN-appointed commission stopped short of calling it genocide, but said crimes against humanity had been committed and may be no less serious than genocide.
Dr. David Bercuson, of the University of Calgary's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, said the small size of our mission to Sudan means Canada will play a relatively minor role in resolving the situation.
"The chief of defence staff's [General Rick Hillier] mantra until now has been that we aren't going to be doing things piecemeal," Dr. Bercuson said. "Well, this looks pretty piecemeal to me.... I don't know if we get any real international benefit out of missions like this."
However, he said that given the current demands on the Canadian Forces and its limited ability to airlift troops or equipment to far-flung missions overseas, 31 soldiers is probably all that could be managed.
"Someone in the Department of Foreign Affairs probably thought this was an easy and relatively cheap way to look like we're doing something to back up our rhetoric on Darfur," Dr. Bercuson said.
UNMIS was established to support a shaky ceasefire between southern rebels and the northern-based government. It is also to support the African peacekeepers who are now protecting refugee camps from the predations of the Janjaweed militia.
Mr. Weintraub said that by joining the UN mission, Canada may well "open the door" for other Western nations to contribute troops to a much larger force. "What is needed is 6,000 or 7,000 troops, because Darfur is an area about the size of France ... and a mandate to go out and protect people."
The UN Security Council has voted to send Darfur war crimes suspects to the International Criminal Court, including up to 51 people accused of crimes against humanity.
The sealed list of suspects is believed to include senior Sudanese government and army officials, Arab militia leaders and some rebel leaders and foreign army commanders.
The Sudanese government decried the move as unfair, but this month arrested 15 military and security officials for crimes including rape, killing civilians and burning villages.