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African leaders eye bigger role for AU forces

Ole Tangen Jr (AFP)July 19, 2016

The role of AU forces is on the rise as African leaders agreed on Monday to send a large AU military force to South Sudan with a more robust mandate than the 12,000-strong UN protection force already in the country.

AU summit in Kigali
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Twahirwa

After violent gun battles in the capital Juba between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to rebel leader Riek Machar last week killed hundreds of people, the African Union (AU) has proposed a new force to protect citizens and keep the peace.

The decision was made at the AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda, in response to a ceasefire between the main forces in South Sudan. At least 300 people were killed, and tens of thousands were forced to flee their homes.

“The UN doesn't have the mandate to impose peace," said African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui.

"They are there where there is peace to keep. African troops are ready to engage in very difficult situations. It is our responsibility," he added.

UN force already deployed

Initial reports state that the mandate of the protection force will be more robust than the mandate for the almost 12,000-strong United Nation force UNMISS currently protecting refugee camps in South Sudan. Some have criticized the UN soldiers for failing to react to the recent fighting.

President Kiir is yet to approve the deployment of any additional forces in the country. A move to install a UN arms embargo on South Sudan has also failed to go through because of opposition from Uganda, a long-time supporter of the Kiir government.

“The AU force will be a force that will actively be deployed to stop the fighting,” said Dr. Annette Weber, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “So it's not just to protect civilians but to intervene in the current armed struggle.”

Weber is not sure that an AU force will be successful in quelling the violence between forces loyal to Kiir and Machar.

“It will be extremely difficult to deploy these troops because President Kiir has made it clear that he is not accepting a single soldier from outside in his country,” she told DW.

AU forces elsewhere

South Sudan is not the only place where AU forces are deployed. An AU peace-enforcement mission was first deployed to Somalia in 2007 and now numbers around 22,000 troops.

Acting with the approval of the UN, that force includes troops from Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Kenya whose mandate is to support the Somali government in delivering humanitarian aid and in its fight against Al Shabaab militants.

Südsudan Präsident Salva Kiir und Vizepräsident Riek Machar
Troops loyal to First Vice President Riek Machar and those loyal to President Salva Kiir clashed in the capital Juba last weekImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Dhil

Officials at the summit announced that they will start pulling troops out of Somalia beginning in 2018. The AU also has a force of about 3,000 soldiers performing peacekeeping duties in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The 8,700-strong regional “Multinational Joint Task Force” (MNJTF) is supported by the AU and has been deployed to take on Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria and Cameroon. The force includes soldiers from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin. The terrorist group has killed thousands of people within Nigeria and bordering countries.

While there are French soldiers deployed in CAR and Mali, non-African countries are not currently deploying troops to combat the growing threats on the continent. According to Weber, it is often only the African Union that is willing and able to deploy forces to these conflicts but she stressed that the solution for many conflicts does not always come from military involvement.

“In South Sudan we need much more than a robust deployment of forces, we need a complete change of the political culture,” she said.