(New York) - The Rwandan government’s pledge that its troops in Darfur will protect civilians should encourage the international community to press Sudan to accept an enlarged African Union mission with a mandate for civilian protection, Human Rights Watch said today.

The 154 Rwandan troops deployed on Sunday will protect African Union ceasefire monitors under the April 8 agreement between the Sudanese government and the two rebel movements in Darfur. This weekend, they will be joined by a contingent of Nigerian troops. The current African Union mandate does not specifically authorize these troops to protect civilians, but Rwandan President Paul Kagame insisted that Rwandan troops would intervene if civilians are threatened.

On July 27, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council proposed increasing the current ceasefire monitoring force to more than 2,000 soldiers and expanding its mandate to provide civilian protection. Seven African countries have indicated their willingness to contribute troops to such a mission, but the Sudanese government has so far refused to accept the proposal.

“The Rwandan government deserves praise for deploying troops to Darfur and pledging to protect civilians,” said Georgette Gagnon, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division. “Now the international community should increase pressure on Sudan to accept peacekeepers with a mandate for protecting civilians, and it should provide the support that’s urgently needed for this mission.”

The United Nations Security Council on July 30 passed a resolution demanding that Sudan take steps to improve conditions in Darfur in the areas of security, human rights, humanitarian assistance and political resolution of the conflict. The Security Council gave the Sudanese government a 30-day deadline to disarm the government-backed Janjaweed militias.

In a report released last week, Human Rights Watch documented how Khartoum instead has allowed the Janjaweed to continue to rape, assault and loot civilians, and drive ever more people from their homes.

“Khartoum claims it can’t control the Janjaweed, but at the same refuses to allow international troops to protect civilians in Darfur,” said Gagnon. “If the Sudanese government were truly serious about protecting civilians, it would accept an expanded international presence to stop the atrocities.”

Human Rights Watch called on the African Union to ensure that sufficient troops are deployed in rural areas, and not only in the major towns in Darfur. The African Union should publicly report on attacks against civilians as well as ceasefire violations.