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Darfur on the edge of a free fall

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Last week the International Crisis Group (ICG) delivered the report ‘Darfur’s new Security Reality’, in which it unconcealed says that the situation in Darfur has recently drastically deteriorated. Violence has increased and any sustainable solution for the nearly five year old conflict has become increasingly complicated due to fragmented rebels, the radicalisation in the internal displaced camps, the inadequate African Union force (AMIS), the difficulties around the peace talks, the delay in the deployment of the United Nations-African Union (UN-AU) and European peacekeeping missions, the rise of Arab-Arab conflicts, the National Congress Party’s (NCP) divide-and-destroy policy and the fear of a new war between the north and the south through the deep crisis around the Abyei area which paralyses the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Whereas in 2003 the rebellion was consisted out of two more or less consisted groups, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), who had relatively defined political aims; it is now characterized by a profound fragmentation, shifting alliances, defection, infighting, increasingly shaky connection to the civilian population and the lost of their unified political focus. Without a relative quick alternative, the rebels risk to become no more than armed groups who survive through banditry. At the same time the ICG points out that the conflict dynamics are evolving. Previously the main axis was between the non-Arab tribes and the government and its related militias, but now there is a rise in Arab-Arab clashes over land and power, fuelled and worsened by Khartoum. This makes the overall situation in Darfur only more insecure and complicated, because neither the Arab tribes, nor the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) signatories as Minni Minawi’s SLA are willing to relinquish their made political and land gains. Moreover, there is the growing risk that the conflict will merge with crises in Kordofan as the Darfur rebels are starting to link up with Kordofan resistance movements.

On the humanitarian front, things aren’t better. Since the beginning of 2007 there are 240,000 new displaced or re-displaced persons, which brings, according OCHA, the total internal displaced persons (IDP’s) living in camps to nearly 2,2 million (or one third of Darfur’s population). Not only these are overcrowded, but there is an increasing politicisation and militarisation through the presence of militias, government troops and rebels in and around camps. Together with the growing frustration and impoverishment of the displaced and the great amount of weapons in the camps this leads to rising levels of (sexual) violence and banditry. Clashes in camps caused by military action by government and rebel movements have already led to the fled of 10-15,000 IDP’s. Tensions are also raised through the NCP’s attempt to dismantle the camps and to force the IDP’s to return to their areas, while these are unsafe and sometimes occupied by new groups. Moreover, humanitarian agencies are confronted with increasing difficulties to deliver aid to the camps because of direct attacks against them and a troubling government. As a result they have forced to pull out of many areas, depriving 500,000 persons of any relief.

On the long run the greatest challenge to come to peace among the various Darfurian groups will be to overcome the devastating NPC’s policies of the nearly last two decades. From the moment the Bashir regime took power, it set up a policy of dividing and stimulating conflict in Darfur. While it first attempt to produce Arab control in Darfur was blocked by the non-Arabs (the Fur, Massaleit and Zaghawa), its new strategy is to keep it unstable and to subvert further Darfur’s social fabric by continuing setting up tribes against each other, generating mistrust and settle Arabs and persuaded rebels on cleared land, which mainly belonged to the Fur and Massaleit. To continue this strategy it is essential to hinder the deployment of UNAMID or making it impossible to fulfil its mandate and to maintain the support of the Abbala Nothern Rizeigat tribe. Although various –but not all- Arab tribes are involved in the Janjaweed incursions, it is the Abbala Nothern Rizeigat who forms the backbone of this NCP sponsored and guided Arab militia.

Hence, to make an end to NCP’s ‘chaos on design’ policy and to improve the humanitarian situation, UNAMID has to be fully operational as soon as possible. Unfortunately this is not going to happen before –in the best-case scenario- mid-2008. Firstly, Sudan still has to accept the final list of contributing countries submitted by the UN and AU on 2 October and until now it has refused three non-African units. Secondly, several Western countries are reluctant to provide some vital material such as helicopters in order that the mission can perform adequately its mandate. Thirdly, there are logistical problems because Sudan still has to give land and flight rights and there is great concern about adequate water supplies. But not only the hybrid force is confronted with various problems in its deployment. The European mission (EUFOR), planned to deploy by mid-November in eastern Chad and in the northeast of the Central African Republic to protect civilians, refugees and IDP’s and to guarantee humanitarian aid and free movement of humanitarian personnel, knows besides similar material and logistical problems also disagreement about the share of the involved costs.

In attendance of a fully operational UNAMID, the ICG recommends that the current present AMIS mission must be reinforced as quickly as possible and that the UN-AU mediation team must come as soon as possible to a ceasefire; so, that the AMIS is able to resume its patrolling and protection activities. But even if those two conditions are carried out, the badly demoralised AMIS won’t be able to perform its weak mandate. The fact that AMIS withdrawal from the IDP camps, what deteriorated further the security situation, and its task to promote the heavily unpopular DPA worsened the relations between AMIS and the AU, at one hand, and the rebels and the IDP’s, at the other, who no longer perceive the AU as an impartial arbiter in the conflict.

The ICG is right when they state that the AU-UN mediation team must follow a more inclusive peace process and hence must invite as well Darfur’s civil society, Arab groups, tribal leaders, representatives of the IDP’s and DPA signatories, UNAMID and, last but not least, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to come to a comprehensive peace agreement. Although the inclusion of the SPLM is crucial through its leverage on the rebels and because Darfur’s fate is intertwined with the north-south conflict, the NCP rejects the participation of a SPLM delegation as facilitator. Alex de Waal, a British researcher who followed Sudan over the last two decades, however pointed out that the CPA does not satisfy Darfur’s demands because it shortchanges its share of the nation’s power and resources and some rebels (JEM) made already clear that its power-sharing provisions must be renegotiated. But until now the SPLM made clear that a revise of the CPA is not an option, fearing that this will open the “box of Pandora”. Moreover, how more actors around the table, how longer it will take and how tougher it will be to come to a comprehensive peace agreement.

To stop a further deterioration, the international community has to put more pressure on Khartoum to end its obstruction of UNAMID’s deployment and on Egypt and Libya to lift their support to Khartoum to allow only military assets of African countries. Although the Darfurian and broader regional situation is very complex, a better coordinated and a more intensive diplomatic action on behalf of the international community –with a key role for China-, coupled to a greater political will to improve the situation, will have positive outcomes and will force Khartoum to change its calculations.

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