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The political dynamics of the Darfur crisis

22 December 2006 at 00:00 | 390 views

At least 200,000 people are estimated to have died since the Darfur conflict between government forces, allied militias and rebels seeking autonomy began in 2003. Aid workers have also been attacked, and their vehicles and communication equipment stolen. Eva Dadrian writes that for international development aid to be effective, peace must be restored first to Darfur.

By Eva Dadrian, Guest Writer.

Throughout the Darfur crisis, Sudan has disputed accusations, accused everybody except the pro-government Janjaweed militias, played for time, pledged and promised but never delivered. It has even managed to stave off UN intervention. Darfur is entering its fourth year of conflict and turmoil and there are no more excuses to be made, say observers.

Despite calls for action from the United Nations (UN), aid agencies and human rights organisations, Africans have consistently resisted any action which would be critical of the Sudanese government, in the name of African solidarity. But patience seems to have run out even from a very complacent African Union, and not long ago, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria warned of possible genocide in the region. Now, President Omar el Bashir has until the end of the year to disarm the Janjaweed, and accept a hybrid AU-UN peacekeeping force in Darfur or face the consequences.

Addressing the African-Caribbean-Pacific conference held recently in Khartoum, President al Bashir said that the situation in Darfur is “under control” and that peace has been restored in the province. In reality, the situation in Darfur is far from being "under control" as claimed by the Sudanese strong man. The rebellion continues and a new group has emerged and taken up arms against Khartoum.

Reported to belong to Darfur Arab tribes, the Popular Forces Troops (PFT) say they are fighting against the “marginalisation” of the region. It is not yet known whether they will join forces with the rebel groups that did not sign the Abuja Peace agreement. However, the PFT is reported to have made a statement saying that “Darfur Arab groups believe that Darfur people are fighting for a just cause”.

In the meantime, the only group which signed the Abuja Peace agreement with the government last May (the Sudan Liberation Army), has threatened to pull out of the deal if Khartoum-backed militias “continue to be armed and to attack civilians”. In addition, fresh fighting has erupted between the Sudanese government troops and the National Redemption Front (NRF), an umbrella group of the rebel factions that did not sign the Abuja peace agreement in May.

Sitting in Addis Ababa last week, the AU Joint Ceasefire Commission (JCC) decided that the disarmament of the Janjaweed in the war-torn Darfur region "be started immediately." That decision was made upon the assessment of a confidential report presented to the JCC by General Luke Aprezi, the commander of the AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan) peacekeeping force. The report testifies clearly and without ambiguity hat the Janjaweed had recently increased their attacks. It also draws the attention of the JCC to the fact that "the re-emergence of the Janjaweed also negatively affected the security situation." Although Khartoum continues to deny it, General Luke Aprezi’s report says, “The Sudanese government continues to arm the Janjaweed."

Back in 2004, at the height of the conflict, I wrote that the Sudanese armed forces and other paramilitary units, i.e. the government-backed Janjaweed, have simultaneously targeted civilians, allegedly accused of supporting the rebellion. Despite promises and pledges from the government, the Janjaweed are still being armed and still targeting civilians. Only last month, the Janjaweed were again in action against civilians. This time the attacks took place near the Chadian borders.

Both the AU and the United Nations confirmed this recent military campaign and said that the Janjaweed militia has targeted “civilians and particularly children”. More than 70 civilians were reported killed. Western monitors have also reported that the Sudanese Air Force has also been deployed in the offensive and bombed villages along the border with Chad. No circumstances can justify deliberate attacks on civilians, or military operations that endanger civilian lives. These recent attacks were grave violations of human rights and the laws of war, and they happened despite the recent pledge by the government to dismantle the Janjaweed and honour a UN Security Council resolution that banned bombing raids in Darfur.

President Al Bashir has consistently rejected the deployment of an extended peacekeeping force on the grounds that his government is capable of maintaining peace in the region. He went as far as declaring that the presence of any UN force would be like “an invasion” or that the West is interested neither in human rights nor in the plight of the people of Darfur, but seeking to invade Sudan only so it could plunder its resources. Sudanese government officials have also warned that the war-torn province could become “a new battlefield for jihadists”.

There is no doubt that the disarmament depends on “ the political will of the Sudanese government” says Monique Mukaruliza, deputy head of the peace mission, but the pressure is building up and it appears that even Sudan’s African supporters have given up on Khartoum’s long-lasting diplomatic game.

That game is almost over. An “informal” consensus seems to have been reached by the AU, the international community and the UN to put further pressure on Sudan.

As the AU Joint Ceasefire Commission was sitting in Addis Ababa, 15 former foreign ministers wrote a proposal for Darfur. Published in the Financial Times of London (18 December 2006), the proposal, signed by amongst others: Joschka Fisher (Germany) Ismail Cem (Turkey) Gareth Evans (Australia), Erik Derycke of Belgium, Lamberto Dini of Italy, Bronislaw Geremek of Poland, Rosario Green of Mexico, Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand, Hubert Vedrine of France and Ana Palacio of Spain, says that a “fully observed ceasefire leading to a sustained political settlement would be the best way to save lives in the war-ravaged region.”

In the interim, says the proposal, the international community will need to convince President al-Bashir that his best interests would be served by allowing the “African Union peacekeeping force to be strengthened with financial, logistical and other support from the United Nations.”

The option of sanctions, the so-called “consequences” mentioned by the JCC communiqué, is clearly stated in the foreign ministers’ proposal. They reckon that sanctions would force a change of policy by Khartoum. “As former diplomats, we support one last effort to persuade Khartoum to accept the proposal for a hybrid force. If by the year’s end Mr Bashir still refuses or, more likely, continues pretending to agree one day and saying no the next, he should pay a stiff price."

That price, or the consequences should first include targeted multilateral sanctions [such as travel bans and asset freezes] directed at military and civilian leaders who are responsible for the violence. The second step should be measures to target revenue from Sudan’s oil sales, coupled with an embargo on the sale of equipment to that country’s petroleum industry, and thirdly, steps to be taken to close offshore accounts affiliated with the government-majority party, including militias.

In addition, the International Criminal Court should up its investigations into those who order or commit crimes against humanity in Darfur. However, unless these sanctions are “multilateral” they will have no effect on the Sudanese government. Extensive diplomatic efforts by the AU and the international community are being made to persuade Sudan’s African, Arab and Asian allies to help change President al Bashir’s mind and to reach an agreement for a “hybrid” AU-UN force to be sent in 2007. Before being asked to leave Sudan, in October 2006, Jan Egeland, the United Nations humanitarian chief, made a similar plea and called on African, Arab and Asian countries to urge Sudan to accept a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur.

The Addis Ababa-Abuja broad diplomatic coalition, which benefits from the support of the AU, the Arab League and the UN Security Council, has recommended a hybrid force that would combine AU personnel with financial, logistics and other support from the United Nations. The plan is 1) to strengthen the capacity of the AU monitors, 2) to provide for increased logistical support to the embattled African contingent and 3) to see the deployment of a hybrid AU-UN peacekeeping force yet to be formally approved by Sudan.

Pressure is also mounting from the International Criminal Court (ICC), as Luis Moreno Ocampo, the chief prosecutor for ICC, announced that his investigation has collected enough evidence to prove “who are the most responsible for the crimes committed in Darfur” in 2003 and 2004. It was during that period that the highest number of crimes were committed, by all parties involved in the conflict. The chief prosecutor has also asked the Sudanese government to facilitate a visit by his team in January 2007 to gather information on the 14 arrests made by the GoS.

However, it seems that the people indicted by the GoS are not the same people the ICC is investigating. Under the Rome statute, the prosecutor must first assess whether the government is building the same case. Ocampo has already asked the Sudanese government for an update on their national proceedings, regarding the arrest of 14 people by the Sudanese authorities.

Furthermore, as the UN Human Rights Council is preparing to send a high-level team of human rights experts to Darfur, news reports have quoted Mohamed Ali al-Mardhi, the Sudanese minister of justice, as saying that he was “ready to cooperate with a UN fact-finding team due to investigate human rights abuses in war-torn Darfur.”

According to Al-Mardhi, “the authorities have nothing to hide” and all obstacles will be removed in order “to allow the team of experts to probe cases of rights violations in the western region”.

Collective decision-making is very well, and there is no doubt in my mind that as Africans, we have to stand for African sovereignty and reject any outside interference in our own affairs. But my question is whether in the name of that same sovereignty, we should allow our governments to kill Africans and destroy entire communities, making hundreds of thousands of people flee their homes and become refugees or IDPs (internally displaced people), facing starvation and life threatening diseases? It is indeed in the name of their sovereignty that successive governments in Khartoum have waged wars against their own people: for more than twenty years in Southern Sudan and now for almost four years in Darfur.

Observers and aid agencies continue to remind us that Security Council resolution 1706 was written under the enforcement chapter of the United Nations, therefore the UN force could intervene “regardless of what the government of Sudan wants”. But this is not, and this cannot be, the preferred option. Sudan must agree to let the hybrid AU-UN into Darfur where the humanitarian situation is deteriorating as aid agencies have announced that they had to pull out 650 staff from Darfur and Chad, because of security fears. The evacuation of the aid workers, even if temporarily, means disrupting supplies of food and medicines to hundreds of thousands of people.

Some African political analysts say that the so-called "international peacekeeping force" is a “euphemism for foreign military intervention which is destined to have disastrous repercussions for the people of Darfur and Sudan as a whole.” Let us be honest and look into the past 50 years of Sudan history. The only disastrous repercussions for the people of Sudan are the centralised, hegemonic, dictatorial, elitist and undemocratic policies of successive Sudanese governments who have ruled the country since independence.

Some observers suspect that oil is the main “motivation” behind the heightened interest of the international community and specifically that of Washington. Yet, there is no geological evidence of oil reserves in Darfur. Academics and some diplomats are behind the spread of these false reports. If one looks into the oil issue, one can see that China, Malaysia and India hold the concession rights for oil development and exploration in Southern Sudan and in the Kordofan province.

For my part, I have always believed that the fighting in Darfur should not be seen as an isolated issue, but in a wider regional context. The entire Sahel region, from Mauritania to Sudan, faces a common problem: droughts and underdevelopment that lead to a scramble over the meagre resources between nomadic tribes and pastoralists, mainly Arabs or Arabised, and African non-Arab agriculturalists and farmers. This has been the situation since the 1960s. Only sustainable development assistance to the entire region of the Sahel can help quell current and future clashes between those communities. But before sending any international development aid, peace must be restored to Darfur.

• Eva Dadrian is an independent broadcaster and Political and Country Risk Analyst for print and broadcast media.

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