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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 July, 2005, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Security in Darfur 'is improving'
By Jonah Fisher
BBC News, el-Fashir

AU peacekeeper
Thousands more AU troops are due in the coming months
Security in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region has improved significantly, says the commander of the African Union peacekeeping force

Festus Okonkwo said there had been no major battles since January and the number of village attacks had fallen.

But peace talks between the government and the increasingly fragmented rebels have so far achieved little.

Some 2m people live in Darfur's camps, driven from their homes by over two years of conflict.

Reinforcements

El-Fashir is the headquarters of a steadily-growing AU presence.

Every day US planes fly in more reinforcements.

Janjaweed militia
The Janjaweed issue has been reduced to the snatching of cars and tires from the roads, stealing of animals
Major Gen Okonkwo

At the moment there are nearly 3,000 troops. By September it should be close to 8,000.

When Nigerian Major Gen Okonkwo first arrived as the head of a small observer force, he had to watch powerless as villages burnt and government and rebels clashed.

Now the ceasefire between the government and the rebels appears to be holding and activity of the pro-government Janjaweed militia has decreased.

"Everyday it is Janjaweed, Janjaweed up to April," the Major Gen Okonkwo said.

"But for the past three months or so the area has been calm and the Janjaweed issue has been reduced to the snatching of cars and tires from the roads, stealing of animals, which are inter-tribal issues."

He says the improvement is down to the strong positions taken by the international community and moves by the Sudanese government to bring about tribal reconciliation.

But despite the better security, there has been no indication that Darfuris living in overcrowded camps want to go home as peace talks show no sign of reaching a conclusion.

Without a final peace agreement, a return to some sort of normality remains a long way off.



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