E.U. "ready to go'' to help expanded African operation in Darfur

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Brussels (dpa) - The European Union on Monday said its military staff had put the final touches on an expanded logistical support and training scheme for African Union peacekeepers deployed in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

"We are ready to go,'' an E.U. diplomat told reporters, adding that E.U. help in transporting additional African troops to Darfur would start this week - with the deployment of Nigerian soldiers - and continue until end-September.

Additional soldiers for Darfur peacekeeping operations have also been promised by Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa. No European or NATO troops will be sent to the region.

"Only African soldiers are on the ground in Darfur - this is an A.U. operation which we are supporting ... We are not in charge,'' said the European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The African Union, which is planning to boost its presence in the region from the current 3,000 soldiers to 8,700 troops and civilian police by September, was coping well under very difficult circumstances, the diplomat added.

Coordination of the E.U. military assistance programme for the African Union will be ensured by a special representative to be named very shortly.

The 25-nation bloc has also promised to work hand-in-hand with a separate NATO mission which is also seeking to help A.U. forces by airlifting African soldiers to Darfur.

In addition to providing such strategic airlift, the E.U. operation in Darfur also covers short-distance transport, the provision of vehicles, communication equipment and mobile generators as well as assistance and training for African police operations in the region.

The E.U. is also sending military experts on operational and logistic planning to A.U. offices in Addis Ababa, Khartoum and El Fasher.

The A.U. asked for European and NATO help to expand its Darfur operation earlier this year.

Both organisations have said they will work closely with each other on the ground and ensure there are no rivalries. dpa si ms

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