No peace in Sudan – ISN

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Since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) on 5 May, there has been some optimism that real peace could return to Sudan’s Darfur region, but that optimism is fading fast, and it now appears that the UN peacekeeping force due to take over from African Union (AU) peacekeepers in October will not be allowed into the country

Men awaiting their turn to see doctor at IDP camp (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

After meeting on Tuesday with a UN delegation in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir argued vigorously against any UN force.

With Russia and China providing powerful patronage at the UN Security Council, the prospect of an effective UN mission in Darfur is slim. There are already 10,000 UN peacekeepers in southern Sudan, deployed after the January 2005 peace deal between the Sudanese government and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

Now the SPLM/A is in a Government of National Unity with its erstwhile opponents, the governing Arab-dominated National Congress Party (NCP). However, Sudan’s foreign minister, the SPLM/A’s Lam Akol, has been unable to persuade al-Bashir that a UN force is needed in Darfur – where between 200,000 and 400,000 people have been killed since a local uprising was met with a crushing counter-insurgency campaign by the Sudanese Armed Forces, and a deadlier scorched earth campaign targeting Darfurian civilians by Arab nomad militias called the Janjaweed.

This latest diplomatic failure comes after the one apparent success in Darfur’s recent troubles. On 5 May, the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed by the Sudanese government and a faction of the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) led by Minni Minawi.

In response to the deal, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was cautiously optimistic, saying: “Now is not a moment for anyone to bask in congratulations. Darfur is still far from being at peace.”

He has been proven correct, as 1 June saw the passing of a deadline set by the AU for the SLA faction headed by Abdul Wahid, as well as the Justice and Equality Movement, to accept the peace deal or face potential UN sanctions.

The incomplete peacemaking has contributed to riots in camps and continuing violence across Darfur. Disagreement with the deal and distrust among parties has seen rebel factions confront each other. Meanwhile, the civilian population of Darfur continues to bear the brunt of ongoing pro-government militia offensives, amid a precarious security and humanitarian context of low donor funding and ineffective AU peacekeepers.

An incomprehensive peac

The DPA was the result of seven rounds of a Darfur peace process held in Abuja, Nigeria. As the process stuttered, Western countries discussed, to no effective conclusion, whether events in Darfur constituted genocide. Meanwhile, since the onset of fighting in early 2003, not only have thousands of people died, but almost three million have been displaced into camps, living rough in the bush, or as refugees in eastern Chad, itself a now crucible for civil conflict as rebels there seek to oust the Chadian government.

When the peace agreement came about, it was with a rare display of sustained high-level international input into the Darfur crisis, with then-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick attending the talks and working closely with all parties in an attempt to forge a deal.

However, the international interest has not matched that which led to the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Khartoum and the SPLM/A. The CPA ended the 1983-2005 north-south war that cost two million lives. The build-up to the agreement was a fraught process, and the CPA is now being undermined – an issue to be addressed in future ISN Security Watch coverage. But the peace has by and large held, so far, and the CPA encompassed most of the interested parties at the outset.

Although in-fighting has been an issue prior to the talks, with a formal Wahid-Minawi split emerging in mid-2005, what emerged was a peace agreement that is not comprehensive, even if it entails many necessary provisions and concessions by Khartoum.

That the agreement was dismissed by some of the Darfurian rebels can partly be seen as a spin-off from the CPA, which changed the regional power dynamics between Khartoum and the south, and raised the bar in terms of Darfurian political ambitions vis-à-vis Khartoum.

Wealth and power-sharing issues were prime motivational factors for the SLA in taking up arms in 2003. However, these are addressed inconsistently by the DPA. The SLA-Minawi was offered the fourth highest position in the Government of National Unity, set up since the CPA. But the demand that Darfur be upgraded to an autonomous administrative region- equivalent to south Sudan after the CPA – was rejected by Khartoum.

The Darfur Peace Agreement mandates Khartoum to disarm the Janjaweed militias, blamed for the killing, displacement, and rapes that some observers have deemed genocide, by October 2006. However, the SLA-Wahid faction seeks to have an input into the disarmament process – believing Khartoum’s responsibility for disarming the militia they allegedly sponsor to be a case of poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Disagreement over these issues led to SLA-Wahid’s refusal to sign the peace agreement, and to meet the 31 May deadline.

Rebels without a cause?

The rebel reaction to the Darfur agreement took a new twist on 2 June when Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) leader Khalil Ibrahim stated that secession from Sudan was worth thinking about for Darfur – along the lines of the secession option for the south in the CPA.

It was the first time any of the Darfurian groups had mentioned any possible breakaway from Sudan. The JEM is militarily insignificant and lacks grassroots support in Darfur due to its Islamist leanings and pan-Sudanese agenda. Ibrahim is an associate of Hassan al-Turabi, the ideologue (now estranged) behind the 1989 Islamist-military coup in Khartoum that installed the incumbent al-Bashir in power. The SLA has never broached the notion of secession, merely seeking greater autonomy and wealth-sharing from Khartoum.

Ibrahim’s comments may be intended to heighten SLA disarray and recrimination, as well as draw some elements toward the JEM. In any case, intra-SLA fighting has increased since 5 May, with allegations and counter-allegations emerging from the pro- and anti-deal camps.

In the camps for Darfur’s war-displaced, reaction to the peace agreement has been mixed at best, and hostile at worst. This reflects deep distrust of Khartoum’s intentions, as well as lack of impartial public information on the contents and implications of the deal.

Wahid is Fur, the front man for the ethnic group from which Darfur (Land of the Fur) gets its name. Fur people make up 30 per cent of Darfur’s population. Wahid’s SLA, however, is ecumenical in make-up, with a cross-section of all three of Darfur’s non-Arab ethnicities – Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit – all included. Minawi is Zaghawa, which comprises 8 per cent of Darfur’s population. His SLA faction is almost entirely from that same group. Although these have sometimes formed the military vanguard of the SLA, his popularity is not rooted as deeply as Wahid’s among Darfur’s almost three million conflict-affected civilians.

Now the anti-agreement rebels appear marginalized internationally, with an almost inconceivable public relations victory handed to Khartoum. Wahid and the JEM will be regarded as having put their political aims above the humanitarian needs of the people who have suffered since 2003, from the government/Janjaweed scorched-earth response to the SLA rebellion.

However, at the same time, the depiction of the Darfurian people as apolitical victims has been recast somewhat by the reaction of many displaced persons to the agreement. They are largely victims, and largely helpless, but they do have an interest in a viable and equitable peace agreement, if their future in Darfur is to be sustainable.

What can be said with more certainty, however, is that a peace agreement is now in place, which will allow Western governments to continue their prevarication on effective action to improve the security and humanitarian situation on the ground.

Security and humanitarian intervention

Even as the Darfurians in camps protested the peace agreement, they greeted UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jan Egeland with pleas for Western military intervention.

However, the peace agreement makes no provision for the handover of peacekeeping to the UN, which was due to take place by October this year, and asks the already overstretched and ineffective AU mission to undertake a number of key tasks for which it is patently unable.

And the longer term promises little in the way of effective action, apart from mooted sanctions on the JEM and the SLA-Wahid.

China is publicly intent on preventing any UN peacekeeping mission acquiring a Chapter 7 mandate. China’s deputy ambassador to the UN declared, following the vote on UNSC Resolution 1679 after the peace agreement, that “[Chapter VII] should not be construed as a precedent for the Security Council’s future discussion or the adoption of a new resolution against Sudan” – i.e., a precedent for any resolution on the UN peacekeepers mandate if and when they go to Darfur.

Khartoum’s obstruction of a UN assessment mission sent to do the initial preparation for the peacekeeping mission led to Resolution 1679, and this obstructionism may well be indicative of what can be expected in the lead-up to any peacekeeping operation.

The Sudanese reaction to the UN visit on 7 June can be taken as indicative of this, and al-Bashir’s defiance will test the substance of whatever international will remains to do what is needed to ensure security and provide for the humanitarian needs of Darfur’s people.

Having offered some concessions to facilitate the drafting of the peace agreement, Khartoum may feel it has breathing space by which to oppose a UN force, as SLA in-fighting occurs on a daily basis, compromising security and undermining aid efforts in Darfur.

Now over three million conflict-affected people will have to be content with the ineffective AU mission and a fading humanitarian effort. On 1 June, the UN said it was considering withdrawing staff from Darfur. A number of nongovernmental organization have had to suspend activities in various parts of the vast region due to insecurity, looting, and threats.

In May, the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN’s lead agency in dealing with nutrition and hunger-related problems, announced it was halving rations for Darfurians, from a subsistence 2,100 calories per day to just over 1,000. This was due to a funding shortfall that left the WFP’s Sudanese operation short of two-thirds of its required US$748 million for 2006.

Since the peace agreement, additional commitments have been made. However, after the US provision of US$215 to the WFP in Sudan, the next highest donor, as of mid-May, was Libya at US$4.5 million.

Bad as all this sounds, the issues and statistics outlined above do no apply to an estimated 700,000 people who are beyond the reach of any humanitarian assistance in Darfur. With almost 250,000 additional displaced since early 2005, the fallout of the peace deal appears set to increase the numbers of people who fall off the radar screen, in a remote region as large as France.

Intra-rebel fighting and reported Janjaweed offensives in northern and southern Darfur have been the upshot of the peace agreement. And with unrest simmering in Chad, Khartoum implicated in supporting Chadian rebels from their Darfur base, and a UN peacekeeping force apparently further away than ever, worse may yet come for Darfur’s people.

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