Ahern must now see what’s needed in Darfur – The Sunday Tribune


With Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern in Darfur last week, his visit should convince him that a UN peacekeeping force is needed in Darfur. However he must now persuade Sudanese allies at the UN, writes Simon Roughneen

Children peer out behind camp-fence (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

In Darfur, everything: life, livelihoods, political progress, security, even humanitarian access for aidworkers – is on edge right now. GOAL cannot now reach some of the clinics and feeding centres established in outlying areas, serving some the 2 million Darfurians displaced by conflict and Janjaweed depredations. For aidworkers too, work remains balanced on a fine edge for now, weeks after the peace agreement.

At the outskirts of Fata Borno camp for conflict-displaced, Majda Abdullah braves the blazing afternoon sun as she loads up her donkey to return to her temporary shelter. It is 42 degrees Celsius, and even the camels here needs to rest in the shade.

“It is better this way”, she says. “In the morning and in the evening it is dangerous to even come to the edge of the camp. Since three weeks ago, 6 women have been raped by Janjaweed. They were out looking for wood to burn, or were going to the garden”.

The garden in question is the communal fruit and vegetable plot which some the displaced have established at the edge of the camp. Janjaweed ignore the African Union peacekeepers stationed at the camp, and are apparently unhindered by the Sudanese police barracks adjacent to that, as they loot donkeys, steal produce and violate women at will. Others inside the camp bear witness to countless lootings, numerous sexual assaults, and constant intimidation and night-time gunfire inside the camp.

On May 5 2006, the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) group led by Minni Minawi, signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). The DPA, however, like much else in Darfur, is balanced on a knife-edge. Two rebel factions, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Abdul Wahid-led faction of the SLA, have refused to sign, citing unmet needs relating to security provisions, wealth-sharing and power distribution in Sudan, a vast country as large as western Europe. Darfur itself is the same size as France – and has but 2 tarmac roads.

And the Sudanese government is to disarm the Janjaweed, a militia group supplied by the Sudanese Army. The SLA-Wahid wants a say in the disarmament, and UN peacekeepers on the ground to help over see this process, as well as offer security guarantees for people to return home from the camps.

The Sudanese government has so far refused to allow a UN peacekeeping force enter Sudan to take over from the underfunded AU force. Majda says, “We will welcome anyone who can come and protect us from the Janjaweed, if it is UN or whoever. We just want to be protected. This peace will not protect us.”

And with the peace agreement failing to take root on the ground, fighting between the rebel groups is replacing fighting between revels and government, rebels and Janjaweed, as the main source of insecurity on the ground.

As we make the short walk back to camp, Majda tells of her life prior to the fighting. Her village was raided by Janjaweed three years ago and she has not been back since.

“We had a nice farm and grew many things. We made enough money at the market for my parents to get a house in Khartoum, and I wanted to go to university there. But now we just have a small plot at the garden here. We can make some money at the souk (market) in Kutum, but that’s not much.”

Every Monday, Darfurians brave possible Janjaweed assaults as they take their produce and wares to the nearest market in Kutum town.

“Coming back in the evening is the worst time” Majda says. “People have money from selling things, or have bought things. Janjaweed wait by the road, on old buildings, among trees.”

The AU organises a single 5pm convoy to escort souk-goers home across the rocky terrain. Stragglers and latecomers make for easy prey for the marauding Janjaweed.

“They wait to see if people are alone. They watch for people carrying goods, for strong animals, for pretty girls.”

While in Darfur last week, the Minister met with aid agencies and with victims of the conflict, and should be in no doubt about the reality on the ground in Darfur, and what must happen to resolve the political and humanitarian crisis there.

His next step should be to visit China and Russia, Sudan’s allies and permanent members of the UN Security Council, who will veto any effective UN force for Darfur, as things stand.

Otherwise, the DPA will collapse, security will disappear, and Darfur’s current tally of 400,000 dead will climb toward Rwandan-genocide levels. Darfur remains on a knife-edge.

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