Report by Sapa-DPA
Nairobi – UNITED NATIONS peacekeepers began work in the southern Sudan yesterday as guarantors of the peace agreement that ended 21 years of civil war earlier this year.
A vanguard of 12 Nepalese soldiers touched down in the western town of El Obeid late on Wednesday, the UN announced. Troops from China, Kenya, Egypt, India, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Bangladesh will follow.
Western nations like Germany and Australia have also a pledged small number of troops. When complete, the peacekeepers will number 10 000.
The UN troops have been mandated to monitor and verify the ceasefire agreement and set up a programme for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants.
They will also promote national reconciliation and human rights.
The UN said senior staff officers and military observers had begun pre-deployment training in Sudan’s neighbour Kenya.
The long civil war in southern Sudan pitted the Arab, Muslim government in Khartoum against the Christian and pagan rebels in the south.
Between 1983 and this year, the war killed around 2 million people and drove 4 million people from their homes.
Thousands of southern Sudanese are still living as refugees in countries bordering southern Sudan.
After two decades of isolation and neglect, the UN and other organisations have said that southern Sudan, one of the least developed areas of the world, is facing enormous challenges.
At a recent conference in Norway on reconstruction of southern Sudan, donors pledged $4,5-billion (R25-billion) for the next two years, almost $2-billion more than the UN had said was needed.
The peacekeeping mission is expected to cost more than $1-billion (R6-billion) in the first year.
The long-running war in southern Sudan is separate from the two-year conflict in the country’s western Darfur region.
There are currently just over 2 000 African Union troops in Darfur, monitoring a ceasefire that they say is repeatedly broken by both sides.
The UN has said at least 10 000 AU troops would be needed to patrol the vast western part of Darfur, where two million people have been displaced and 180 000 people are believed to have died as a result of the civil war.
The AU said this week that renewed talks between the Khartoum government and the Darfur rebel groups will be held sometime in May.