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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 July, 2004, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Darfur challenge for African diplomacy

By Barnaby Phillips
BBC Southern Africa correspondent

The crisis in Darfur presents African governments with an enormous challenge just as the continent's leaders say they are determined to play a more active role in peacekeeping on their own continent.

Darfur refugees
Africa's response to the crisis has been largely symbolic

Last week's African summit in Addis Ababa was dominated by Darfur and the announcement that African governments would be sending several hundred troops to the region.

The African Union hopes to have its troops on the ground by the end of this month, though Africa will need help from richer countries.

For example, Nigeria will probably send the biggest contingent but Nigerian officials told the BBC that they do not have the aeroplanes to fly all their men and equipment.

Mozambique's President, Joaquim Chissano, played an important role in convincing governments to send troops but he says Africa will be working in tandem with the international community.

"There's a lot of optimism although there is also a recognition of the difficulties which are there.

"Also, there are efforts of the United Nations and of some European countries in a convergent manner. So, I think that there will be a solution and there's a goodwill also of the government of the Sudan."

'Democratic credentials'

Africa's contribution is symbolic, limited by the tiny resources of many governments.

But the decision to send troops and the frank criticism of Sudan at the recent summit are significant, not because the soldiers will make a big difference but because they could herald a new era in African diplomacy.

Some African governments, typically those with good democratic credentials, are less inclined to just accept human rights abuses and bad governance on the continent and are more prepared to interfere in other states' sovereign affairs.

That is why the decision to send troops into Darfur, despite the Sudanese government's reluctance, is so important.

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