Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, said Thursday that the African Union, of which he is the chairman, had decided to send thousands of troops and monitors to help curb the violence in the Darfur region of Sudan that has killed 50,000 villagers and displaced 1.4 million others.
Obasanjo said he expected a force of 3,000 to 5,000 to be assembled by the first week next month, but he added that millions of dollars were needed to deploy it.
A UN Security Council resolution passed Saturday, which threatened Sudan with sanctions if the violence continued, gave the lead peacemaking role in Darfur to the 53-nation African Union. It currently has about 90 military observers in Darfur and 300 troops to protect them.
They are monitoring a conflict that began in February last year, when two rebel groups from Darfur's black African population rose up against perceived discrimination by the government in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. In response, the national authorities armed and equipped Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, which retaliated with a campaign that the UN has termed ethnic cleansing and the US has called genocide.
The resolution called on Secretary-General Kofi Annan to create an international commission to determine whether genocide had occurred. Obasanjo said he did not believe the situation in Sudan constituted genocide because there was no evidence of the kind of government planning to eliminate a particular group of people that the term implied.
Jan Pronk, the UN special envoy to Sudan, told reporters in Khartoum that he would report his latest findings on Darfur to the Security Council in a week. He said "atrocities, very bad killings, rape, burning of villages have taken place," but stopped short of using the word genocide.
Obasanjo, one of 89 heads of state or government at the UN for the opening of the General Assembly, said the resolution's call on the African Union was welcomed. "Let us lead in solving African problems, in providing solutions for African problems," he said. "But please give us the wherewithal, give us the tools and we will do the job."
Meanwhile, the US Senate on Thursday backed a measure that would provide an emergency US$75 million to finance efforts by African Union troops to try and restore peace in Sudan.
The Senate adopted the amendment, which depends on US President George W. Bush asking for the money, to its version of a spending bill funding US foreign aid programs next year. The Senate easily passed the US$19.5 billion bill.
The House-passed version of the foreign aid bill did not include the US$75 million extra for Sudan. This could be added in when the House and Senate meet to iron out any differences in the bill before it can win final Congressional approval and be sent to Bush for signing.
Nigeria, which heads the African Union, hopes for US$200 million in contributions from rich countries or help with transport and logistics. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on Monday said he would contribute the equivalent of US$16 million.