Crisis Deepens in Darfur

The following story was published in the Sudan Tribune early last year.

Feb 9, 2006 (UNITED NATIONS) — The lone AU peacekeeping presence in Sudan’s western Darfur region is ill equipped, understaffed, and fast running out of funds. Violent rebel raids have recently torn tens of thousands from their temporary homes. And gun battles regularly spill over a neighbor’s border, threatening to further destabilize an already tense region.

As Africa’s best attempts to manage the crisis have faltered in recent weeks the region has fallen deeper into chaos. Yet as discussions on replacing overextended African Union forces loom the United Nations was working aggressively to garner international assistance while the United States sought to turn down the volume.

The 7,000-strong AU force had done an admirable job keeping a lid on Darfur’s cauldron of hostilities since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005, but as the $17 million per month mission has sapped its thin resources, tensions have spun beyond its control. The conflict, which began after the end of a long-running civil war in late 2002, has claimed about 300,000 lives and displaced over 2 million.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan differentiated between the AU force and a possible U.N. mission, which would require Security Council approval.

"The African Union forces did really courageous and noble work," Annan said Thursday, adding that they did not have adequate soldiers, logistical support, or mobility. The U.N. "force would require the participation of governments with highly-trained troops, who are also well-equipped.

"It is not going to be easy, [but] the big and powerful countries...will have to play a part if we are going to stop the carnage," said Annan, who included the U.S. in that group. "They will have to commit troops and equipment."

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney appeared to contradict these words on Tuesday.

"It’s a huge area; it’s difficult to get at, but we have been actively involved," Cheney said during a televised interview. "I am satisfied we are doing everything we can do."

Last week U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer downshifted the American rhetoric on Darfur, citing genocide only in the past tense. Her comments came just days after U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council, which will soon begin discussions on the Darfur mission.

"The U.S. has said that genocide has occurred in Sudan, and we continue to be concerned about the security situation in Darfur," said Frazer. The situation "is very different than what it was. It’s not as systematic...there isn’t large-scale organized violence taking place today, [but] a series of small attacks and incidents."

The scene on the ground belies the American assertions.

After the Sudanese Liberation Army assaulted a government building in Golo last month, Khartoum-prodded Janjaweed raids on displaced persons camps in the Mershing and Shearia areas exploded, leading to the forced ouster of up to 70,000 refugees. Another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, recently accused the Sudanese government of seeking to extend the conflict into neighboring Chad by supplying troops and equipment along the border, according to the Sudan Tribune. Chad, in turn, has beefed up its Darfur border presence and humanitarian groups in that area have complained of increasing violence.

"The developments in western Darfur and the borders between Chad and Sudan have caused grave concerns,...whether inside Sudan or in the peace process here," said JEM leader Ahmed Tugod from the ongoing peace negotiations in Abuja, Chad.

A Security Council report released Wednesday detailed a thriving and mostly government-sponsored arms trade from neighboring Chad, Eritrea, and Libya. The report, which came on the heels of a survey chronicling late 2005 Darfur violence from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, recommended sanctions against the three countries in violation of a Security Council arms embargo.

Additionally, a study released last month by the Physicians for Human Rights detailed not only the usual rapes, killings, and various violent attacks of the past 40 months, but also "the disruption of all means of sustaining livelihoods and procuring basic necessities." After three extended visits to the region and more than 100 interviews in a two-year period, PHR found that "the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed have created conditions calculated to destroy the non-Arab people of Darfur in contravention of the ’Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.’"

At the center of the Security Council negotiations will be the size of the force and its mandate. In January, a U.N. military official cited a ceiling of 12,000 troops, which would most likely necessitate either U.S. or European involvement, if not both. And there is a vast gulf between the Security Council’s Chapter VII mandate—which confers peacemaking authority—and a Chapter VI mandate—which gives forces peacekeeping authority.

Annan described the U.N. mission he sought.

"I would want to see a highly-mobile force on the ground in Darfur...to be able to send a message to the militia and the people causing the damage, that we have a force that is capable to respond, a force that is everywhere, and a force that will be there on time to prevent them from intimidating and killing the innocent civilians."

Asked about the possibility of igniting a holy war in Sudan, the Secretary-General was cautious yet sanguine.

"The African Union needs to work with us to convince the government that they are coming in to help contain the situation, not coming in as an invading or a fighting force," said Annan. "I don’t think it’s impossible to get them to agree...and so I’m very optimistic about that."


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