3.29.2006

The Politics of Darfur

Speaking Tuesday at an Arab League summit in Khartoum, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan echoed a common and disheartening refrain concerning Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.

“People continue to be killed, raped and driven from their homes by the thousands,” Annan said. “The security situation has worsened as a result of fighting between Chadian troops and Chadian armed opposition elements on the common border.”

In an update to the Security Council last week, the U.N.’s top envoy in Sudan, Jan Pronk, offered scant evidence that recent agreements and cooperative steps had made any impact.

“The ceasefire does not function; the Joint Committee does not meet; the sanctions…exist only in theory,” he said at U.N. headquarters in New York, adding that countless human rights abuses threatened the peace in Sudan as a whole.

From Pronk and Annan to U.S. President George Bush and U.N. Human Rights Chief Jan Egeland, and from International Crisis Group to Africa Confidential and Human Rights Watch, a growing chorus of discouraging updates and urgent warnings has ratcheted up the urgency on Darfur over the last fortnight. Yet as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis deepens, a lack of international cooperation has underscored the logistical and political hurdles to swift and effective intervention.

Some 200,000 people have been killed and 2 to 3 million displaced since the conflict began three years ago, and in February the turmoil spilled over the border into neighboring Chad, igniting another proxy war and endangering additional hundreds of thousands.

This month Egeland predicted a rise in mortality and dubbed the region “the killing fields of the world,” Human Rights Watch urged the application of sanctions and an arms embargo on Sudan in an open letter to Annan, and an International Crisis Group study warned of an imminent disaster, placing the blame on the Sudanese government and calling for the immediate deployment of a 5,000-strong intermediate stabilization force.

Darfur has become even more explosive because of tensions between Chad and Sudan,” said Africa Program Director for the International Crisis Group Suliman Baldo, referring to government-sponsored raids, cross-border incursions, and criss-crossing refugees. “I don’t foresee any improvement in coming months because I don’t see any change in the attitude of key players; why would the situation improve?”

The vocal tide has swelled on the heels of a March 10 African Union decision to accept U.N. intervention after its September 30 departure.

“I was pleased with the AU decision,” said Pronk, highlighting a lack of international preparedness. “Even though I had expected nine months [to prepare] because I don’t think we can do it, the transition, technically, in six months. We need troops and where are they to come from?”

Two days later the Security Council, expressing a similar query, formally asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to develop preparatory planning options for a UN-led Darfur mission. Not only thousands of highly-trained troops and advanced military supplies are needed, but, also consensus from a variety of players including the United States, NATO, and the Sudanese government, which again reiterated its stance against United Nations interference at the Arab League summit.

Key members of that government, the National Islamic Front, were in Abuja, Nigeria, this week at peace negotiations with opposing rebel forces of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. The U.S., European Union, and other international observers are pushing for an April 30 agreement on the Improved Ceasefire Protocol, but since the NIF violated the January 2005 agreement and has been openly supplying the janjaweed militia and controlling access to the region, analysts foresaw little real progress.

In violation of previous agreements, “the government is still blocking aid and there is virtually no access for non-governmental organizations and aid workers,” said Gillian Lusk, deputy editor at Africa Confidential, an insider’s weekly newsletter, who visited the region this month.

Sudan may sign an agreement with the rebels, which will not go far but will allow the NIF to save face,” Lusk said. “If the U.N. is coming in, Khartoum will try to get as much as it can beforehand.”

Precisely how the U.N. comes in—including the number and allegiance of troops, degree of mobility, and, crucially, whether the mission is given a Chapter VI peacekeeper mandate, or the more robust, action-oriented Chapter VII, or peacemaker, distinction—is crucial.

Eight African nations announced their willingness to send soldiers after a closed-door meeting at the Arab League summit, while the U.S. and NATO have offered logistical and material support but committed no troops.

Baldo was pessimistic on the potential impact of a 20,000-strong NATO-led force.

“There could never be a military solution to this problem,” he said. “Greater international involvement and a cooperative U.N. force could stop the terrorizing of civilians, assist humanitarian and aid workers, and perhaps bring those responsible for this manmade disaster to account, but a political resolution is absolutely necessary to bring about legitimate social reconciliation in Darfur.”

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